125 Stanford Stories

NO. 120
Stanford Today

St. Lawrence String Quartet

The St. Lawrence String Quartet, from left: Christopher Costanza, cello; Geoff Nuttall, violin; Lesley Robertson, viola; and Owen Dalby, violin, is Stanford's ensemble-in-residence.
Eric Cheng/echengphoto.com
Geoff Nuttall answers a question during an undergraduate class in Stanford's Burbank House in 2014.
Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service
Violinist Owen Dalby; cellist Christopher Costanza; violist Lesley Robertson and first violinist Geoff Nuttall are the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford's ensemble-in-residence.
Eric Cheng/echengphoto.com

Stanford’s ensemble-in-residence strives to put fine music within reach of all

Stanford is enriched by the music and mentorship of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, an acclaimed ensemble that joined the university community in 1998.

As Stanford’s ensemble-in-residence, the St. Lawrence String Quartet enlivens the campus and the Bay Area with its vivid yet respectful interpretations of chamber music.

The quartet gives several free performances on campus each year in addition to a regular concert schedule. Its dedication to seeking out nontraditional venues helps bring fine music within reach of all.

As members of Stanford’s music faculty, its artists mentor talented student musicians and foster an appreciation for chamber music throughout Stanford and beyond.

As a string quartet, what can you add to the fabric of a university? We work with composers. We use the quartet as a weapon to connect different departments. We try to engage the students on a grassroots level.

— Geoff Nuttall, first violinist

Every summer, the St. Lawrence String Quartet leads a 10-day Chamber Music Seminar that draws talented musicians from around the world. These ensembles and the St. Lawrence quartet itself hold daily free performances on campus. Audiences learn about the evolution of chamber music and instruments, how interpretation affects performance, and about the music’s social history.

Also in summer, the quartet takes part in Why Music Matters, a course for high-school-age participants in the Stanford Pre-Collegiate Studies program.


Throughout the year, the group’s Emerging String Quartet Program brings early-career professional ensembles to Stanford for brief residencies, intense coaching, and performances at venues ranging from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory to Stanford libraries, research labs and residence halls.

A special series, the Azure Family Concerts, caters to families with children and young adults on the autism spectrum.

The quartet was founded in 1989 in Canada, where co-founder and first violinist Geoff Nuttall was then living. Violist and co-founder Lesley Robertson began her training in Canada as well. Current cellist Christopher Costanza joined the ensemble in 2003. The newest member, violinist Owen Dalby, is a Bay Area native who joined in 2015.

Chamber music is such a microcosm for life on every level. You learn how to speak to people; you learn a collaborative working process. You have a common goal but four different voices. You learn a lot about being a human being by playing chamber music.

— Lesley Robertson, violist

Learn about the St. Lawrence String Quartet’s upcoming performances.

Learn about the 2017 Chamber Music Seminar, June 24 to July 2.

Listen to Christopher Costanza’s Cello Suites of J.S. Bach and read about his first encounter with the works at age 11.