Early last month I was in the bookstore talking to a couple from New Jersey, here for Spoleto. They'd been to a Chamber Music concert that morning and were raving about the St. Lawrence String Quartet. A man with a five o'clock shadow and a baby in a sling was standing by the architecture section. He butted in.
"Oh, they didn't play all that well," he said.
There were an inordinate amount of music critics in town because of a convention coinciding with the festival, so I assumed it was one of them, harshing on the Yankee couple's music buzz.
Not so. The speaker was in fact Geoff Nuttall, the St. Lawrence's first violinist. The St. Lawrence has been the resident quartet for the Spoleto Chamber series for 12 years. Other than Charles Wadsworth, Nuttall is the series' most bankable personality (the Jeter to Wadsworth's Steinbrenner?)
I took some pictures of him and his baby Jack and wife Livia, and told him I'd be bringing a group of kids from Burke High School to the concert the next week to write ekphrastic poetry (it means inspired by other art, in this case music). He acted very interested and took my card and we made loose plans to bring the kids backstage after the concert.
This is coming from someone perhaps a little jaded (I did cover parties during the festival), but I didn't expect anything to come of it. Conversations during Spoleto are kind of like the ones you have in Europe with other expatriates, drinking Stella Artois in a Florence pub, exchanging addresses with some guy from Nashville who makes sculptures out of chewing gum, and you never end up e-mailing him.
This would be the fifth year I'd worked with educationSpoleto and, to be honest, it doesn't always work out. You might hold a preliminary workshop at some underfunded summer program, and then, on the day of the concert, a van rolls up with a different group of kids, two minutes before curtain, who don't have pen or paper.
This year, I handpicked my very best ninth graders from 10 grueling (but rewarding) weeks of workshops poet Richard Garcia and I had held at Burke this spring. English teacher Howard Hyde and I personally brought them to the 11 a.m. concert.
When we arrived, our tickets weren't waiting for us (it turned out to be my fault.) Geoff Nuttall found me in the lobby, introduced himself to all the kids, and put them in the balcony in the musicians' reserved box.
The concert consisted of works by Charles Wuorinen, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (an African-British composer, by total coincidence) and closed with a Mozart piano concerto with Nuttall going all Eddie Van Halen on his fiddle: fast, fast, fast.
After the first movement of the Mozart, when modern audiences are used to an awkward pause as the musicians mop their brows and turn pages, Wadsworth came out on stage — he'd forgotten to mention the kids. He turned to them up in the balcony — "you guys are the future!" he said.
We got a picture backstage as Geoff and Livia fed their baby on his brief lunch break. He thanked the kids for "lowering the average age of the audience by ten years."
Most reviews of Nuttall's virtuosic play can't help but mention his flamboyant bowing and natty dress. I'm glad to have seen another side and to share it with you.