Heir apparent?

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It looks like there soon might be a new director of Spoleto's chamber music series. This morning, Charles Wadsworth, the series' current director, announced that Geoff Nuttall, the first violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Spoleto's ensemble-in-residence, has been named the series' new associate director.

Wadsworth's announcement, along with evident health issues resulting from age, is perhaps a sign that Wadsworth, who turns 79 on Tuesday, is going to step down after founding the chamber music series more than 30 years ago and perhaps retire completely from touring South Carolina and Georgia. Emails to Spoleto officials regarding Wadsworth immediate future plans have not been returned yet. I'll keep you posted when I know more. Paula Edwards, PR director for Spoleto, says that Wadsworth is not stepping down.

Wadsworth has been programming chamber music since Spoleto's beginning in 1977. Over that time, he has cultivated what can be fairly called a cult of personality, to the extent that he doesn't bother announcing each program's line-up until you get to the concert — you go on faith, a faith he has earned.

Even so, Wadsworth is showing his age. Four years ago, I saw him present a concert in Savannah. He was dapper and charming and gregarious — his musings and humor strode the line between bawdiness and good taste. That's what his audiences love, a folksy sensibility mixed with erudite pizazz. About two years ago, I started to hear rumors of Wadsworth retirement from touring.

This morning he was still looking dapper and he was still his charming and gregarious self, but he took the stage gingerly, using a railing and the piano to steady himself as he shuffled to the piano. His playing also sounded frail. He was overpowered by the St. Lawrence String Quartet in the second piece, a pastoral by Vaughn Williams set to A.E. Houseman's A Shropshire Lad.

His frail appearance combined with a tone of seriousness, unusual for the merry prankster, as he relayed an anecdote from the night before. His wife fell and broke her wrist. They spent much of last night in the emergency room. She's fine but in pain. He'd be leaving shortly.

Ever the joker, Wadsworth found time for a laugh. In 42 years of marriage, he said, it was the first time he put clothes on his wife. You might try it, he suggested. It might put some zing back in your marriage.

After the Vaughn Williams piece, Wadsworth had to rejoin his wife. So he turned things over to Nuttall, whose exuberance and delight in sharing the upcoming piano sextet by Dohnányi was self-evident. He even noted, with Wadsworthian flair, though with a postmodern sensibility, that Dohnányi's life began with mentoring by Brahms and ended on Tallahassee, Fla., where he taught at Florida State.

"From Brahms to the Seminoles," Nuttall said.

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