Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: For Geoff Nuttall

Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: For Geoff Nuttall

Geoff playing a chacona, 2010.

One of the brightest, most generous lights in the American chamber-music world is gone: Geoff Nuttall, the first violinist of the St. Lawrence Quartet, died today at the age of fifty-six, of pancreatic cancer. It’s devastating news to the hundreds of musicians who’ve worked with Geoff over the years, whether as students or as colleagues. And it’s devastating news to audiences across North America — from the Banff Centre, where the quartet first broke through, to Palo Alto, where it is based, and on to Charleston, where Geoff led the chamber-music series at the Spoleto Festival. One of my favorite experiences as a critic-reporter came in 2001, when I followed the St. Lawrence on the road, to El Paso, Texas, and Joplin, Missouri. I’d covered the quartet’s New York début, in 1992, and wanted to check in on their progress. Geoff was at the heart of the group and the chief source of its spontaneous, viscerally musical spirit. Behind his regular-guy affect was an exuberant, unpredictable, wide-ranging mind. Barry Shiffman, the former second violinist of the St. Lawrence, tells me that Geoff remained active to the end, biking to and from his chemotherapy appointments and leaving Barry huffing in the course of strenuous hikes. He will be profoundly and permanently missed.

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