It can be anyone’s guess what Geoff Nuttall has in store for concert-goers during the 33 Bank of America Chamber Music series concerts. That’s because Nuttall, The Charles E. and Andrea L. Volpe Director of Chamber Music, thinks outside of the box when planning the 11 programs for the Dock Street Theatre. The lineup for 2018, for example, includes melodies spanning more than 400 years; 16th-century Renaissance songs by John Dowland can be heard in the same afternoon as Peggy Lee’s famous “Fever,” and a work by contemporary composer Pauline Oliveros flows effortlessly to a Haydn string quartet.
Nuttall first came onto the Spoleto scene as a chamber musician in 1995, and after years of playing here with his St. Lawrence String Quartet and serving as co-director to the beloved Charles Wadsworth, he assumed the role as director in 2009. Over the years, Nuttall has become well known for his un-stuffy attitude, his wit and enthusiasm as host, and, of course, his outstanding artistic ability as a violinist.
We recently asked Nuttall three questions to help you get better acquainted with this Spoleto insider. Read his answers below.
When did you catch the music bug?
I started playing violin when I was eight years old. I was playing in string quartets by age 10 or 11, though I was never a real prodigy—I just liked it. I went to music school in Ontario and got a degree from the University of Toronto. Right out of undergrad I formed the St. Lawrence String Quartet in 1989. It’s been my ticket to ride—I’ve met all these incredible people, got to Spoleto Festival USA, and it goes on from there.
Do you have a favorite Festival memory?
This question is like asking which one of my two boys I like better. There are a million favorites! I love that the Festival invites composers to come and create new work. This year composer Doug Balliett will present two world premieres and he has arranged a fun piece for the final program. Eclecticism of programming is one of my most important trademarks, and I always try to include new music. So some of my great memories are working with composers like Osvaldo Golijov, Mark Applebaum—who will be back in 2018, too—and Jonathan Berger. They’re pushing the boundaries of what people think is art and music. The amount of work that’s been created here is remarkable.
My favorite moments are also when I get to meet and play with new people. I’ll never forget the first time when mezzo-soprano Charlotte Hellekant stood onstage and totally took over the Dock Street. Or when we met countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and everyone’s jaw dropped hearing him sing for the first time. Or getting to play Schubert’s double cello quintet with Alisa Weilerstein as a young kid and then becoming close to her was so special. I could go on forever!
A few years back, The New York Times dubbed you the “Jon Stewart of Chamber Music.” Do you like this designation?
I love Jon Stewart—he’s hilarious, smart, and quirky, so any time I can be connected to him, I’m honored. The chamber music concerts at Spoleto are informal with speaking in between pieces. Charles [Wadsworth] set that tone, and it has since become customary in the biz. If you don’t speak at chamber music concerts these days, it’s frowned upon. Yet while everyone does it, the challenge is to do it well. I try to make people feel comfortable and make everyone feel like we’re all watching the concert together and participating in the same game. To do that, I try to break the ice, maybe with a silly joke. But my end goal is always to make the audience feel connected.
Tickets to the 2018 Bank of America Chamber Music series can be purchased anytime HERE or by calling the Festival box office at 843.579.3100 from 10:00am to 6:00pm Monday through Friday and from 10:00am to 2:00pm on Saturdays. Beginning May 1, tickets will be available at the box office at the Charleston Gaillard Center (95 Calhoun Street).