Fine Arts Quartet
• Founded 1946
Other string quartets
The Fine Arts Quartet has been one of the longest-enduring major string quartets in the modern era, and despite numerous personnel changes over the years, its collective talent and style have remained consistent. The group is known for the diversity and breadth of its repertoire, which in addition to the traditional literature, encompasses contemporary pieces and rarely played older works. The quartet has appeared on television and radio broadcasts in the U.S. and Europe, has recorded over 200 works, and toured extensively.
The Fine Arts Quartet was founded in Chicago in 1946. The original players, all then-current or one-time members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, were Leonard Sorkin (first violin), Joseph Stepansky (second violin), Sheppard Lehnhoff (viola), and George Sopkin (cello). The ensemble had nearly formed in 1940, with second violinist Ben Senescu, but World War II delayed establishment until 1946. The FAQ has been almost unique among American string quartets in having made appearances on such major U.S. television programs as The Today Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. It has also appeared on countless radio and public television broadcasts, both in the U.S. and Europe. From its founding through 1954, the FAQ played regularly on Sunday mornings for ABC radio network broadcasts. It began making occasional television appearances in the 1950s, and in 1958, it launched its annual European tours. In the late 1960s, the FAQ toured Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia under the sponsorship of the U.S. State Department. From 1963 until 2018, the FAQ made the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee its base of operations.
There have been numerous changes over the years to the FAQ's roster, particularly in the viola post. In 1982, Ralph Evans replaced first violinist Leonard Sorkin, the last original member. Efim Boico has served as the second violinist since 1983, and 2018 saw the addition of two new players: Gil Sharon on viola (the 11th person in this position) and Niklas Schmidt on cello.
The FAQ's recordings have been on such labels as Naxos, Music & Arts, and Lyrinx, and, in the more distant past, Columbia Masterworks, Everest, and Vox. It has received many awards and recognitions from Gramophone Magazine, Musicweb International, BBC Music Magazine, and American Record Guide, as well as multiple Grammy nominations. Among the group's acclaimed recordings are the 1998 Dvorák quartets, opp. 96 and 105, the 2003 complete Mozart string quintets, both on Lyrinx, and the 2011 Fauré piano quintets, with Cristina Ortiz, on Naxos, which won a Grammy Award. Other significant recordings include Ysaÿe's Harmonies du Soir, the complete quartets of Schumann and Haydn, the complete Bruckner chamber music, and the complete Dohnányi string quartets and piano quintets. In 2020, the FAQ issued the Naxos album Beethoven: Fugues and Rarities for String Quartet.
In recognition of the Fine Arts Quartet's commitment to contemporary music, it received a 2003-2004 Award for Adventurous Programming from Chamber Music America and ASCAP.