The string quartet that speaks

The string quartet that speaks


norman lebrecht

October 16, 2014

Stanford University’s St. Lawrence String Quartet are playing a Haydn Discovery series in which violinist Geoff Nuttall involves the audience in what’s really going on inside those staves.

It’s an engaging presentation. Dip in at 7:00 for the spiel.

SLSQ Photo: Marco Borggreve


  • OhGlorioso says:

    Oh boy is he irritating! And patronizing. Maybe it’s better if they just played.

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      Perhaps not…

    • Patricia says:

      I completely disagree with the sharp comments about the first violinist’s comments. It is always interesting to hear from the artists, especially one as inspired and engaging as Geoff Nuttall. He is funny and the audience is totally eating it up, so a sudden sensitivity to imagined “condescension” is ridiculous. The St Lawrence Quartet is one of the finest quartets ever assembled and they bring an excitement and energy to their performances that has invigorated concert series the world over. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but personal insults are unfounded. What they have done in engaging new audiences has helped the chamber music scene in numerous ways. The very assumption that everyone is on the same level as you as a concert-goer, and a brittle attack at someone enlivening the history and background for those not in the know, is itself condescending. It all smacks of a certain pride: Even if you know everything about Haydn, a healthy ego would understand the whole picture.

  • Geoff Radnor says:

    They do, it is on Youtube right after this bit, the whole thing with no mic around his face. They are a Canadian quartet.

  • Good heavens he’s condescending. The sad news is that the general public is no longer informed about the basics of music so one probably has to endure more of these kinds of semi lectures as a way to attract and inform new audiences. What we have just witnessed is not a new evangelism of the arts, but a sign post as to how far our civilization has declined. I fear for the future success of the fine arts.

  • Augustine Rodriguez says:

    I watched the whole segment.

    First, I don’t think he knows his audience. His tone is better suited to college freshman. From what I could tell from the audience, this was a older group. Second, he doesn’t seem to have a clear, articulate message. How many times and ways can you say, “Haydn is a genius”? Third, he needs a lesson plan to keep him focused.

    Having said that, I do appreciate what he is trying to do; his pedagogy needs work.

  • Jewelyard says:

    Whoa I thought this was supposed to be a first class American quartet? Am I missing something here?

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Next, he’ll play a recording…

  • Alexander Platt says:

    The St. Lawrence Quartet is the best string quartet in America. I’d book them every summer at my festival if they were available.

  • Milka says:

    It is a fine group …it would even be
    better if Mr.Nuttall would shut up .
    The trick is to attend only when one
    knows he won’t be speaking ….

  • Geoff Radnor says:

    It takes all kinds to make the world and as someone said before “I don’t read the critics, they play not, neither do they sing”
    If Mr Nuttall makes just one person like Haydn who didn’t know him before all the better. Just listen to the quartet’s Youtube “Emperor” and be happy.

  • Masumi Rostad says:

    I agree with Mr. Lebrecht- Bravo to Geoff and the St Lawrence Quartet! I can attest that this is an incredibly difficult presentation to pull off and it is done smoothly, thoughtfully and with great charisma. The quartet sounds fantastic as well. Much respect…

  • Anton Nel says:

    I deeply admire and respect the St. Lawrence Quartet and find their love of music and playing thereof infectious!

  • Eric Cheng says:

    The SLSQ is probably the quartet that is most effectively getting younger audiences excited about chamber music. I have met dozens, if not hundreds, of young classical musicians for whom Geoff and the SLSQ have been huge inspirations. Audiences may be mostly comprised of the elderly, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t try to help them to understand why the music can be so exciting to play.

    Those of you who say Geoff is condescending don’t know him. Please don’t confuse exuberance for condescension.

    Finally, it’s so easy to criticize, anonymously, from behind a keyboard. Where is the constructive criticism, or examples of how you have helped to share the reasons classical music can be so great?

    • barry shiffman says:

      Glad to see so much chatter..wish it had more to do with sharing Geoff Nuttall’s love of Haydn and less to do with what we think drives his enthusiastic presentation. I spent 17 years sitting beside Geoff during my tenure with the St. Lawrence. His love of Haydn is utterly genuine. Even as a musicians that has played the Emperor Quartet many many times, on stages large and small, I came away from the video feeling I had rediscovered what makes Haydn tick. Thanks Geoff. Great to see that you have the same fascination for Papa Haydn as you did when we were students. Thanks for sharing.

  • Warren says:

    Did you all watch the same video I did? The St. Lawrence is one of the best quartets out there performing today and they _never_ phone it in. It’s too bad some of you haters mistake Geoff Nuttall’s unfiltered enthusiasm for
    Haydn for being condescending or patronizing. I thought the clip was great and try to make every performance of theirs I can.

  • Ilya Levtov says:

    Enlightening presentation. Being taken through the details and magic of the piece in this way, completely transforms the listening experience. Now i’m going to listen to some more Haydn. Thank you SLSQ!

  • Adrian Fung says:

    As a chamber musician, I know Geoff and the SLSQ have inspired all manner of young quartets and chamber ensembles. The push to understand the music and play it with the same freshness of discovery that the composer felt while writing it has been a noble, worthy, and life-long effort. The SLSQ bring a vitality to everything they do. I met Geoff over 18 years ago and if it weren’t for the SLSQ’s passion, sense of immediacy, and zeal for education, I wouldn’t have dreamed of playing the cello as a career. The SLSQ remain a benchmark so many of us are trying to attain.

  • Stuart Wall says:

    I had the pleasure of seeing the St Lawrence perform at Wigmore Hall earlier this year. Not being a classical music expert (in spite of the fact that I am old), I really appreciated Geoff Nuttall’s talk at the start. He signposted the pieces which really helped to make them more approachable. His enthusiasm was infectious. I loved the performance and will see them again and again.

  • Sally Fujitsu says:

    SLSQ has incredible connections with their audiences all over the world because of their ability to perform exceptionally AND add context to the music they are playing.
    Other chamber ensembles model their performances after SLSQ for a reason.

  • Ali Miller says:

    I’ve been lucky enough to see the SLSQ perform a number of times over the years and I think Geoff Nuttall is an incredible musician whose passion is completely genuine. I’m not a young person and I’m not a musician but as someone who enjoys music I have no argument with Geoff’s desire to provide context for the music he loves. Clearly his energy and enthusiasm resonate with a huge number of people.

  • Christine Choi says:

    Having attended many SLSQ performances, I can safely say that the audience loves being given a glimpse of how the musicians perceive the music. Geoff’s unfettered and genuine enthusiasm for Haydn is refreshing to see in a genre that has been criticized for being staid and unapproachable. The SLSQ is always an inspiration!

  • Ray Walton says:

    It is unbelievable that some viewers have had such a negative reaction to this amazing and wonderful video. I think there must be some snobbish feeling of jealousy or insecurity at work with you poor viewers who just don’t get. In my opinion, after having heard them literally hundreds of times over the last 15 times, they are the most exciting and amazing quartet in American and probably in the whole world. Pity you who don’t understand Geoff Nuttall’s excitement and enthusiasm for “Papa” Haydn. Having heard “The Emporer” hundreds of times I still came away with a new awe and respect for the magnificent composer. Get real, folks! Listen to Geoff, work a little at your listening, and enter a new world of excitement in music.

  • Jack Comerford says:

    I personally found Geoff Nuttall exciting and informative and can’t imagine any other reaction. He is a consummate musician and an intellectual genius. Listening to Geoff and the St Lawrence String Quartet has given me a new understanding and appreciation for one of the most important composers who ever wrote a string quartet. Wow!! They are the best.

  • Ray Walton says:

    Geoff Nuttall is amazing, exciting and informative. He and the St Lawrence String Quartet electrify their audiences with their incredible and intuitive performances. At their 25th anniversary concert yesterday the audience rose as one in a standing ovation at the end of their performance and the cheers and whistles almost blew the roof off the beautiful Bing Concert Hall at Stanford. I feel nothing but pity for you poor commenters who “just don’t get it”! Try listening to Geoff and maybe you can learn to appreciate Haydn.

  • Chris Messner says:

    Whoa!! What planet are you guys from “Glorioso,, Olaugh and Boring? No wonder you hide behind your ridiculous fake names. You must be so afraid of really learning something about Haydn and the string quartet that all you can do is make petty, demeaning comments. Geoff Nuttall is a genious and a communicator. His audiences love him and everyone, no matter how expert they are, come away with an exciting new perspective on Haydn after listening to Geoff and the Saint Lawrence String Quartet in their mesmerizing and beautiful performances. Wow, you guys are sure missing out on something. If you don’t understand what Mr Nuttall and the SLSQ are doing, more’s the pity you!

  • Sam Martin says:

    What an engaging and musically satisfying video. Bravo to Geoff Nuttall and the Saint Lawrence String Quartet for their extraordinary performances and lectures. We need more breath and life in the often stodgy and snobbish chamber music crowed. Nuttall reads his audience perfectly and the SLSQ play Haydn’s quartets sublimely. Bravo!

  • Hazel Walton says:

    Thank you Geoff Nuttall and the Saint Lawrence String Quartet. You have brought joy and the love of music to an amazing number of people. Your music and talks certainly gave me a wonderful new appreciation for the Haydn Quartets. And I’m 89!! Thought I knew it all.

  • John Bertram says:

    Fabulous video and kudos to Geoff Nuttall for his informative and enthusiastic talk about the Haydn Quartets. Yes, I think the Saint Lawrence String Quartet is the best quartet in the world–in their own and unique way. Listen and learn my friends.

  • Lisa Marsh says:

    How grateful I am to the SLSQ and Geoff Nuttall for his enthusiasm, knowledge and great understanding of such important music. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to experience and fully appreciate the Haydn Quartets through his heart.

  • Bob Skelton says:

    BRAVO Geoff and the SLSQ!! You have made Haydn and the Emperor come alive – a thoroughly enjoyable presentation/performance! I’ve performed it many times and was still inspired by your humour and insight. I can’t believe the inane negative comments that are totally ignorable, and I can’t wait to hear the Quartet again soon! Keep up the great work!