The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center mourns the passing of violinist Geoff Nuttall on October 19 at the age of 56.
Anyone acquainted with the art of chamber music likely heard him perform with the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The Quartet, with Geoff as first violinist, has been a fixture of the chamber music world nationally and internationally since soon after the group was formed in 1989, and CMS is fortunate to have enjoyed their artistry on multiple occasions.
Geoff belonged to an elite group of artists whose devotion to their ensembles was total. For the St. Lawrence Quartet, for example, Geoff was like the Juilliard Quartet’s Robert Mann, and the Beaux Arts Trio’s Menahem Pressler. These great musicians, Geoff among them, possessed the passion and intellect to discover endless possibilities within their genre’s repertoire, to thrive off constant rediscovery, and to share with audiences the joy of bringing their ensembles’ great repertoire to the stage.
When we first heard the St. Lawrence Quartet in early 1990’s, we knew something very special was headed the way of the world of chamber music. Although they were formed only a little more than a decade after my quartet, the Emerson, they already possessed qualities which we knew belonged to the next generation of string quartets. Soon, their stunning performances and recordings of the groundbreaking works of Osvaldo Golijov were proving that the art of quartet playing was still evolving in astonishing ways.
Equal to the St. Lawrence’s devoted exploration of music by living composers was the Quartet’s, and Geoff’s in particular, nearly maniacal enthusiasm for and advocacy of the quartets of Josef Haydn. While it has recently become fashionable (in some circles) to regard dead composers as simply dead, Geoff and his quartet brought Haydn to life as few ever had, performing and recording the quartets, and in Geoff’s case, lecturing about Haydn with irresistible passion backed by deep knowledge and personal commitment. One could not have served the art of music better than to celebrate the accomplishments of one of the world’s greatest artists, and to prove Haydn’s continued relevance and value to society.
We shall miss Geoff Nuttall terribly but deeply are grateful for his enormous contribution to the art of chamber music, and for all he left us in the memories of his riveting performances, his exquisite recordings, and his indelible spirit.
David and Wu Han