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Geoffrey Rutkowski (May 1, 1941-July 31, 2019)

Geoffrey Rutkowski was a cellist; he played with passion, warmth and love. He adored his students, his colleagues and anyone with whom he could play chamber music. He loved to play, to teach, and ,with his Matteo Gofriller cello which he acquired in 1976, was known for his gorgeous rich sound that carried from the stage to the last row.

Born in Seattle, raised in Palo Alto, he attended Willamette University where he first received a BS in biology, followed a year later by a BM. He attended USC for his MM, studying with Gabor Rejto. His first teaching position was at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he stayed for two years.

In the summers, he attended both the Aspen Music Festival and the Music Academy of the West. Geoff studied with many of the world’s most esteemed teachers including Pablo Casals in Puerto Rico, William Pleeth in London, and Zara Nelsova at Aspen Music Festival.

In 1967 he married Joan Barber Rutkowski with whom he performed and traveled the world.

In 1968 he joined the music faculty at UCSB, retiring in 2013 as distinguished professor emeritus. During the course of his tenure, he performed recitals in the great halls of Europe and Asia, including Wigmore Hall and the Concertgebouw.

For two seasons he served as principal cellist with Mehta, Muti, Davis and Rostropovitch at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. He toured China for a month in 1985, giving master classes and performing recitals with pianist Wendell Nelson.

Geoff spent two months in Padova, Italy, where he was an exchange professor under the auspices of UCSB’s EAP and later spring quarter at the UC campus in Washington, D.C.

He served as principal chair with the Santa Barbara Symphony from 1968-2011 and completed his tenure five years later. As soloist, he performed the Brahms Double Concerto twice, Don Quixote, Elgar’s Cello Concerto, and numerous other collaborative works.

He served with five permanent conductors, culminating with Nir Kabaretti whom he had met in Italy. During his tenure, the symphony went from a partially amateur group to a fully professional orchestra of very high quality.

He played in other local groups including Opera Santa Barbara’s orchestra. Conductor Valéry Ryvkin just wrote: “Geoff was such a spirit and a fantastic musician: his sound when he played Puccini operas … is one of my very special memories.”

He was an original supporter of the restoration of the Granada Theatre and was thrilled that it became a reality in 2008.  He supported the Santa Barbara Symphony, Opera Santa Barbara and his great love, Ensemble Theatre Company where he served on its board.

Geoff recorded with his UCSB colleague Wendall Nelson, with whom he played all over the world, and more recently performed with Italian pianist Giuseppi Modugno in Italy and the U.S.; they recorded the two Brahms’ Sonatas, the complete works of Shostakovitch and the Barber Sonata for the Emertage Label, a division of DGG.

Geoffrey left us on July 31 at 4:40 p.m. — the pitch for which orchestras tune. He gave in to the inevitable after a struggle with COPD for many years. He died in his home gazing upon the beautiful Pacific Ocean. His struggle with breathing had finally come to an end.

There will be a Celebration for Geoff at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, at The New Vic Theatre. Geoff’s elegance of style, musicianship, bigger-than-life personality, and wonderful sense of humor will live on through our many memories.

Donations may be made in his honor to Ensemble Theatre Company, The Santa Barbara Symphony and The Granada Theatre, or the arts organization of your choice.

-Joan Rutkowski

The Santa Barbara Symphony looks forward to sharing the upcoming season of thrilling and inspired programming with the community and visitors alike! For more information on the Santa Barbara Symphony, or its programming, visit

About The Santa Barbara Symphony

Now in its 71st year, The Santa Barbara Symphony delivers artistic excellence, outstanding music education stewardship and programming, and community collaboration – all through symphonic music. Under the artistic leadership of Maestro Nir Kabaretti as Music & Artistic Director since 2006, The Symphony is one of the region’s premier cultural institutions. Through his charismatic leadership, this globally admired conductor and Santa Barbara resident invigorates audiences and musicians alike through his passion, creativity, and vast experience. As the only music education program tied to a professional symphony orchestra in the region, The Symphony serves more than 4,000 students annually throughout Santa Barbara County. While The Symphony continues to evolve, bringing joy, engagement, and connection remain steadfast pillars of its mission and were evident in the organization’s ability to thrive during the pandemic including the historic announcement that board chair Janet Garufis and President & CEO Kathryn R Martin join Nir Kabaretti in making a five-year commitment to serve in their roles. For more information, visit

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