Geoff Nuttall, The First Violinist of The St. Lawrence String Quartet, Passed Away at The Age of 56!

Geoff Nuttall, co-founding the first violinist of the St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ), renowned faculty member of Stanford Universitys music department, and director of chamber music at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, has passed away. On October 19, Nuttall, who resided in California, died of pancreatic cancer. He was 56.

In 1992, the SLSQ gained popularity after winning the Young Concert Artists Auditions and the Banff International String Quartet Competition (BISQC) and obtaining a recording contract with EMI.

A Vibrant and Dynamic Individual

Barry Shiffman, director of BISQC, a former member of the SLSQ, and a longtime friend of Nuttall, verified the news of his passing.

Shiffman told CBC Music that Geoff has the uncommon capacity to make the listener feel what he is feeling. It seems so straightforward, yet it is everything. There is no security blanket, only a brilliant, energetic personality that communicates emotions directly. I recall hearing him when we were both teenagers, and he already possessed this talent. It was a musical style I had never encountered before, and it altered me. Sitting next to him for innumerable concerts and rehearsals has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.

A statement issued by the SLSQ describes Nuttalls dedication to his chosen pursuits: He fought cancer as he lived his life, brimming with optimism and relentlessly showing up for the things he loved most: spending time with his wife, Livia, and playing sports with his sons; collecting vinyl LPs, building objects with his hands, and sharing the pleasures of analog experiences of all kinds; nurturing native plants and gardening; and seeking in the string quartet an ever mending community.

Nuttall was born in College Station, Texas, and relocated at the age of eight to London, Ontario. At the Banff Centre, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Toronto, where he earned his undergraduate degree, he studied violin with Lorand Fenyves.

Nuttall founded the SLSQ alongside violinist Shiffman, violist Lesley Robertson, and cellist Marina Hoover in 1989. Christopher Costanza, a cellist, joined the quartet in 2003, and Owen Dalby, a violinist, joined in 2015.

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In a 2001 New Yorker article, Alex Ross referred to Nuttall as the hidden weapon of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. An opera expert and pop-music enthusiast, he performs his solo lines with an airy, vocal flexibility, displaying a unique individuality that is lacking in many more well-known singers.

Nuttall and his fellow quartet members were nominated for two Grammys for their debut album, Yiddishbbuk, and won a Juno Award for their 1999 Schumann CD. After serving as a graduate ensemble in residence at the Juilliard School, Yale University, and the Hartt School of Music, the St. Lawrence String Quartet became an ensemble in residence at Stanford University in 1998.

Robertson, a violist, notes, His attachment to music was totally engrossing. One could see him physically experiencing and reacting to the emotion, momentum, and tale when he listened to music. His musical compositions shared the same dynamic link. It was always and solely about conveying the emotional message of the composer and utilizing all feasible techniques to carry that message directly to the heart.

It is impossible to describe how admired and beloved Geoff was, how much he meant to so many, and how influential he has been, she continues. I am among the many who are both bereft and profoundly appreciative to have been in his amazing circle.

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A 2013 New York Times profile highlighting Nuttalls tenure at the Spoleto Festival dubbed him chamber musics Jon Stewart, highlighting his charisma and sense of humor: Mr. Nuttall is a creatively daring, physically talented performer who can go goofball in a nanosecond, maintaining a veneer of entertainment while educating his base about serious matters.

According to Shiffman, meeting Nuttall left a lasting impression. It was awe-inspiring to observe how anyone whether a president of the United States, an inner-city schoolchild, a famous conductor, a manager or a student was immediately affected by his vibrant presence.

Shiffman continues, I have five sisters, and Geoff is the brother I wished I had.

His wife, violinist Livia Sohn, and their children, Jack and Ellis, as well as his mother and sister, survive him. The University of Stanford has established a memorial fund. Details here.

On CBC Musics In Concert on Sunday, October 30, Paolo Pietropaolo will reflect on Nuttall and his accomplishments.

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