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The Royal Conservatory Remembers Geoff Nuttall

The Royal Conservatory Remembers Geoff Nuttall

Published on October 20, 2022

Internationally acclaimed violinist Geoff Nuttall, a founding member of Canadian premier chamber ensemble the St. Lawrence String Quartet, passed away this week of cancer at the age of 56. Mr. Nuttall was deeply connected to The Royal Conservatory of Music, as a musician, teacher, and artist.

Geoff Nuttall

In 1989, Mr. Nuttall, along with Barry Shiffman, Director of The Taylor Academy, and Associate Dean & Director of Chamber Music at The Glenn Gould School, violist Lesley Robertson and cellist Marina Hoover, founded the St. Lawrence String Quartet in a joint program created specifically for them at The Royal Conservatory and University of Toronto. They studied at the RCM under the guidance of Denis Brott and Lorand Fenyves, and in their first year appeared in a four-concert series in Mazzoleni Hall with guests Anton Kuerti, Denis Brott, James Campbell, and Jamie Laredo. As first violinist of the internationally acclaimed foursome, he performed well over 2,000 concerts throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

"Few artists in our country have had such a profound impact as Geoff. He approached music-making as he did with everything in his life – with unmatched passion and energy – and he had an artistic voice unlike anything else I have encountered. From the most searing intensity to turning a simple phrase, he made you feel that the music was being written as it was being played. Geoff was a brilliant and devoted teacher, who inspired countless young musicians, and much of his legacy will be the passion he ignited in these students,” said Mr. Shiffman.

Since winning the Banff International String Quartet Competition and the Young Concert Artist Auditions in the early 90s, the St. Lawrence String Quartet was a regular at North America’s most esteemed music festivals, released several award-winning recordings under an exclusive contract with EMI Classics, and served as graduate ensemble-in-residence at the Juilliard School, Yale University, and Hartt School of Music.

Their JUNO-award winning debut recording of Schumann String Quartets was hailed by CBC Music: "They’ve broken out beyond Canada’s borders like no other artist since Glenn Gould. Their irreverent, spontaneous approach to the classics, as well as their devotion to new music, has made them a model for what the modern-day string quartet should be.”

Having also taught several master classes with students at The Taylor Academy and Glenn Gould Schools, Mr. Nuttall was well known in the halls of the RCM. “We mourn the tragic passing of Geoff Nuttall and I will miss him deeply, “ said Dr. Peter Simon, President & CEO of The Royal Conservatory. “Geoff was not only a great musician and leader of one of the most successful string quartets in the world over the past 30 years, but also a truly wonderful, decent, and thoughtful person with a magnetic personality.  This is a tremendous loss for all people who love music, and for anyone who met him or knew him. I send my deepest condolences to his family.”

After moving to London, Ontario, from Texas, Mr. Nuttall began playing the violin at the age of eight. He spent most of his musical studies under the tutelage of Lorand Fenyves at The Banff Centre, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Toronto, where he received his Bachelor of Arts.

Geoff Nuttall Master Class

As a violinist, the New York Times described Mr. Nuttall as “intensely dynamic” with “stunning technique and volatility.” While the St Lawrence String Quartet developed an undisputed reputation as a world class chamber ensemble mastering established quartet literature, they have also been fiercely committed to collaboration with living composers and, among the works it premiered were those of Canadian composers Derek Charke, Suzanne Hebert-Tremblay, Brian Current, Elizabeth Raum, and Marcus Goddard – each representing a different province in Canada.

“Geoff’s generosity and musical imagination were boundless. Throughout his career he brought depth, wit, and spirituality to all his endeavours. We will miss him profoundly,” said internationally acclaimed violinist and conductor Peter Oundjian, an honorary fellow of the RCM.

Most recently Mr. Nuttall directed the chamber music series at Spoleto Festival USA, and was on the faculty at Stanford University, where the St. Lawrence String Quartet has been ensemble-in-residence since 1999, teaching and directing the chamber music program in the Department of Music. Mr. Nuttall lived in San Francisco with his wife, violinist Livia Sohn, and his two children, Ellis and Jack. The Royal Conservatory joins the music community in mourning his passing.