MY CANADIAN cousin, Geoff Nuttall, is becoming a superstar in the rarefied world of chamber music.
Old Gilmer friend Jane Fieldcamp, now living in Houston, sent me a May 26 Houston Chronicle article reported in its entirety from the New York Times News Service. The caption under a color photo of Geoff noted that he is director of the chamber music series at the Spoleto Festival USA in South Carolina and said he is “known for his quirky behavior and penchant for interacting with the audience.”
My daughter Sally, who subscribes to The New York Times at her home in North Carolina, tells me that the original story has even more photo illustrations.
A FOUNDING director of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Geoff “has established a new style of presentation that juxtaposes the ridiculous with the sublime, delves into serious musicology and casually uses technology. In short he is subtly redefining what a chamber music concert can be.”
Geoff, now 47, moved from Texas to Canada when his father, John Nuttall, a theoretical physicist, gave up a position on the Texas A&M faculty for a similar job in Ontario.
GEOFF’S MOTHER, Suzanne, was the daughter of my father’s sister Rita.
The Spoleto Festival, which Geoff has directed for the last three years, was previously led by Nigel Redden as general director. Redden is quoted as giving Geoff credit for maintaining ticket sales in the high 80 percent.
“If classical music is going to continue to have a vibrant audience, then audiences need to enjoy themselves and also have their ears refreshed. We need to provide the unexpected.”
THAT UNEXPECTED includes not only zany humor but also difficult works by Iannis, Xenakis, John Cage and Pierre Boulez, Redden said, and “Geoff has brought us all with him because of his enthusiasm.”
“He’s very Geoff ,” Redden added, “to want to please and challenge at the same time.”
In his comedic role, Nuttall makes the most of his appearance. At six feet tall, he is a bit gawky.
LONGTIME festivalgoer and donor Tish Lynn recalled hearing Geoff first as a guest artist.
“”Geoff was an audacious , irreverent bad boy,” she said. “Now, as music director, he takes no prisoners.”
Geoff was quoted as saying he began to notice the impact of talking on stage as a member of the St. Lawrence Quartet, when audience members would respond after the performance, not about what had been played but about what he had said.
“It was then I realized that talking really means something.”
By providing musicological information, Nuttall hopes to encourage what he calls “active listening.”
“I want to give people the code book,: he said, “something we musicians take for granted.”