Geoff Nuttall, a charismatic musician who performed boldly as the primary violinist of the acclaimed St. Lawrence String Quartet for greater than three a long time, and who was extensively admired because the chief of the chamber music sequence on the Spoleto Pageant USA, died on Wednesday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 56.
The trigger was pancreatic most cancers, the quartet’s administration firm, David Rowe Artists, mentioned.
Mr. Nuttall based the St. Lawrence in Toronto in 1989 with the violinist Barry Shiffman, the violist Lesley Robertson and the cellist Marina Hoover. Coaching with the fabled Tokyo and Emerson quartets and taking first prize on the Banff Worldwide String Quartet Competitors in Canada in 1992, they got here to prominence rapidly and distinctively, with Mr. Nuttall first among the many group’s equals.
“The quartet’s stage method was hip and informal,” although it had “an unmistakable seriousness of intent,” the critic Alex Ross wrote in The New York Instances after its New York debut on the 92nd Avenue Y in 1992. “The efficiency had a harmful, unchecked edge,” Mr. Ross mirrored on a efficiency of Berg, “I’ve by no means heard something fairly prefer it. Sooner or later, this quartet ought to make its presence felt.”
The St. Lawrence did so. Its repertoire was particular person, even quirky, focusing as strongly on new music by the likes of Osvaldo Golijov as on older scores. It recorded items by the up to date composers Jonathan Berger and John Adams with the identical depth as these by Shostakovich, Schumann and Tchaikovsky that it launched on the EMI label. (Mr. Adams wrote the St. Lawrence two quartets in addition to the quartet-and-orchestra “Absolute Jest.”)
If the quartet’s palpable dedication remained attribute — even because the violinists Scott St. John and Owen Dalby and the cellist Christopher Costanza changed outgoing members — that was as a result of its brio appeared to emanate bodily from its longstanding first violinist. Mr. Nuttall typically performed with such enthusiasm that he swept himself from his seat.
“Nuttall is the St. Lawrence’s ‘secret weapon,’ as the remainder of the group admits,” Mr. Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2001. “His phrasing typically upsets the central pulse of a motion, and the others both comply with his lead or scramble to revive rhythmic order. Because of this, regardless of the rigorous self-discipline of the quartet’s rehearsal course of, many passages sound riotously improvised.”
Mr. Nuttall’s electrifying means to have interaction flowed from his deep need to speak even on the expense of different, blandly technical virtues, and he was totally conscious of the dangers of failure; certainly, he welcomed them as crucial to efficiency.
Mr. Nuttall, a vinyl collector whose front room held greater than 10,000 LPs that supplied as a lot inspiration from Miles Davis as from the Busch Quartet, instructed American Artscape in 2014: “A string quartet is formally actually about being collectively. You actually need to be unified and blended collectively. And I bear in mind being impressed by ‘Nashville Skyline,’ the Bob Dylan report. He does a duet with Johnny Money. It’s such an ideal report, and so they’re not collectively in any respect. They’re completely doing their very own factor, however it’s completely unified and actually highly effective on the identical time.”
“And that was an ideal lesson on ensemble taking part in,” he continued. “As a result of if every one of many duet is doing their very own factor in a very dedicated and convincing approach, even if you happen to’re saying the identical factor, which they have been in that case, it may be extra highly effective.”
Geoffrey Winston Nuttall was born on Nov. 22, 1965, in Faculty Station, Texas, to John and Suzanne (Shantz) Nuttall. His mom was a nurse; his father a physics professor who relocated from Texas A&M College to the College of Western Ontario, Canada, when Geoff was 8.
He took up the violin shortly after the household moved to London, Ontario, and performed in his first quartet at age 10 or 11. He studied with Lorand Fenyves, a famend former concertmaster of the Israel Philharmonic and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, on the College of Toronto, the college from which he graduated.
With the St. Lawrence, Mr. Nuttall was later in residence on the Juilliard College, Yale College, and the Hartt College of Music. He and his colleagues joined the college of Stanford College in 1998, main its chamber music program and making the music of Franz Joseph Haydn — Mr. Nuttall’s favourite composer and one whom he thought was perpetually neglected — as a lot a core of their campus actions as of their live performance packages.
“Arrestingly dynamic teamsmanship among the many 4 gamers allowed each gesture to be for the second and each second to be in your face,” the Los Angeles Instances critic Mark Swed wrote of a 2018 recital of Haydn’s six Op. 20 works, which the St. Lawrence additionally recorded with gritty drama moderately than poised class. “The string quartet as theater doesn’t get extra exhilarating.”
What Haydn’s music calls for, Mr. Nuttall mentioned in a presentation at Google in 2017, is “lively participation, lively listening, following the sport.”
He had a uncommon expertise for uplifting precisely that along with his spirited talks throughout live shows about what made music price getting totally concerned with. That, alongside along with his eclectic style in repertoire, made him the perfect frontman to succeed Charles Wadsworth because the director and host of the early-summer Spoleto chamber sequence in Charleston, S.C., in 2009.
The St. Lawrence performed repeatedly at Spoleto from 1995, and for Mr. Nuttall, South Carolina turned a house away from his Bay Space residence.
He married Livia Sohn, one other violinist, in a Charleston backyard in 2000. She survives him together with their two sons, Jack and Ellis, his mom, and his sister, Jenny Nuttall.
“It was an impressed alternative,” Johanna Keller wrote of the Spoleto appointment in The New York Instances in 2013. “Mr. Nuttall seems to be chamber music’s Jon Stewart,” she continued, a “creatively daring, bodily gifted performer who can go goofball in a nanosecond, sustaining a veneer of leisure whereas educating his base about critical issues.”
Mr. Nuttall didn’t significantly thoughts the comparability.
“Whether or not you’re 7 years outdated and have by no means seen a violin up shut otherwise you’re an skilled with a doctorate in music, I would like you to go away buzzing, elated, or having felt emotionally put by means of the ringer,” he defined to the Charleston Journal in 2019.
“Music connects us all. There’s no secret code to grasp in an effort to really feel moved.”