Tom Strini

Fine Arts Quartet’s Ralph Evans on the FAQ’s next chapter

By - Sep 23rd, 2011 06:14 pm

Ralph Evans, first violinist of the Fine Arts Quartet.

Ralph Evans, first violinist of the Fine Arts Quartet since 1982, and I hadn’t done an interview in several years. Wolfgang Laufer, FAQ cellist since 1979, had been the FAQ’s spokesman and de facto leader.

But Laufer died suddenly in June, at 64. His big personality left a big gap beyond the musical side of the enterprise. Evans stepped into the breach to give an interview in advance of the quartet’s season opener at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25.

“Wolfgang Laufer was a wonderful artist, a great communicator and a very special person,” Evans said, in his studio in the music building at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The FAQ, founded in Chicago in 1946, has been in residence at UWM since 1963.

“Wolfi would get up in the morning and start calling people all over the world. He was one of those people who thrive on contact, and the rest of us deferred to that. It’s traumatic whenever there’s an opening in the group. Maybe it’s more traumatic with him. He was only the second cellist in the history of the quartet. I’m the second first violinist.”

Evans, second violinist Efim Boico and violist Nicolò Eugelmi are amid the application and audition process for a new cellist. They hope to announce a permanent member before the holidays, but they have some work to do. Evans is a little nervous about the whole thing.

“We have over 65 applicants,” he said. “There are a lot of top-notch players. It’s not enough to be of the highest caliber as a cellist. We also need a good match in aesthetic philosophy.”

That involves agreement on repertoire and compatibility of playing style. Evans regards the FAQ as something of a throwback to early 20th-century style, in terms of sound. He said that the group never bought into a late-20th-century trend toward austerity in string playing.


Guest cellist Desmond Hoebig.

“We’re a little unusual,” he said. “Fritz Kreisler was always my idol. We go for a lot of color, for beautiful tone, and for expression in every note. We harken to the Romantic tradition, and we’re looking for a player who is compatible.”

Evans and his colleagues had to line up a roster of guest cellists rather hastily. Not all of them are candidates for the job; some will simply come in and audition in private.

“We don’t have the luxury of time,” Evans said. “So there is a big risk element; personalities can surprise you and not come out until later.”

Cellist Desmond Hoebig will play with the quartet Sunday. Hoebig was principal cellist of the Cleveland Orchestra for six years and now is a professor of music at Rice University. The Vancouver native studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with David Soyer and at The Juilliard School with Leonard Rose and Channing Robbins.

Guest pianist Menahem Pressler will make five for Dvorak’s Quintet in A. Pressler, founding pianist of the Beaux Arts Trio, is an international chamber music legend. He has played with the Fine Arts many times over the decades.

The program: Dvorak’s Quintet in A, Haydn’s Quartet in D, Bernard Herrmann’s Echoes for String Quartet. The concert will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at UWM’s Zelazo Center, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd. Admission is free, but tickets are required; they’re going fast, so it’s prudent to make a reservation by calling the UWM Peck School of the Arts box office, 414 229-4308.

Click here for the complete season schedule.

Display photo, Cello Playing Ghost, courtesy of Peter Shanks’ BotheredByBees photostream at Flickr.



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