Rob Gebelhoff

The Four String Super Stars

International globe trotters the Fine Arts Quartet come home to take on rarely played, highly romantic works.

By - Jan 30th, 2014 11:17 am
The Fine Arts Quartet. Photo by Robert Devers.

The Fine Arts Quartet. Photo by Robert Devers.

Before the rise of pop music stars like Sinatra, Presley and Lady Gaga, it was violin virtuosos who drew large, adoring crowds. The Fine Arts Quartet, which itself tours the globe with its performances, will give a nod to those old-style violin virtuosos in its upcoming concert. The ensemble will perform two early 20th century works composed by two of the greatest violin stars in history: the String Quartet in A Minor by Fritz Kreisler and String Quartet in E minor by Efrem Zimbalist, both pieces they composed to show off their abundant skills.

“This music comes from the golden age of virtuoso violin playing,” says cellist Robert Cohen, who officially joined the Fine Arts Quartet in January 2013. “(Kreisler and Zimbalist) composed these works in a very rich, lyrical and innovative way.”

Both of these works are featured on the Fine Art Quartet’s second-most recent CD, recorded in April 2010. Surprisingly, this was actually the world premiere recording of Zimbalist’s String Quartet in E Minor, an intensely melodic and rare composition.

“We’re not just looking back at those old guys who have recognized pieces,” Cohen says. “This music has harmonies and qualities that are totally surprising. It’s also harmonically challenging — with twists and turns that are absolutely beautiful.”

The FAQ will also perform an arrangement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 by Ignaz Lachner, with guest pianist Alon Goldstein. Cohen speculates this performance might be the premiere of this rare Lachner arrangement.

“(The arrangement) brings another quality to the piano concerto,” Cohen says. “It scales things down to the way that it was originally,


Cellist Robert Cohen, of the Fine Arts Quartet.

because orchestras in Mozart’s time were usually a little amateurish in a way.” The piece will add a high level of emotion to the already highly romantic program.

The high-skilled virtuoso musicianship the works require is a natural for the FAQ, as all of its performers have extensive solo careers. Violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico, who have both performed with the quartet for about 30 years, and interim violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez have all toured internationally as virtuosi.

These artists continue the long history of the ensemble, which dates back to its founding in 1946, through numerous changes in personnel. Since then, the group has recorded over 200 pieces and won a long list of awards and recognitions.

“It’s an extraordinary feeling playing with these musicians,” says Cohen. “When I come to play with the quartet, I’m really putting my feet into a sea of experience. I listen to their recordings and I’m absolutely blown away. And then at the same time I think, ‘hang on a minute, I’m actually apart of this!’”

In 1963, the FAQ was invited to become quartet-in-resident at UW-Milwaukee, a position it’s maintained ever since. The ensemble performs four concerts at the school a year. These concerts, on top of a packed international tour, means the foursome has to be familiar with an enormous list of classical works.

“I personally have learned more than 150 quartets in my time with the Fine Arts Quartet, which is unbelievable,” Cohen says. “I think it must be at least three times, if not four times, more than any other quartet on the planet. It’s an enormous amount of work, and it brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of musical theory.”

This huge repertoire allows the company to play seldom-performed pieces, such as those in this week’s concert. “There are plenty of musicians who look for obscure music because everyone’s already played everything,” Cohen says. “We’re playing this because it’s such great music.”

The concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2 in the Helen Bader Concert Hall in the Helene Zelazo Center. Timothy Noonan, senior lecturer of history and literature at the Peck School of the Arts, will provide a pre-concert talk, which will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 ($5 for students) and avaiilable at the school’s website or by calling (414) 229-4308.

Other events coming up:

“On the Town” by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to some of the greatest American composers this weekend, with a concert that will culminate with Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.”

Soprano Georgia Jarman will join the MSO to deliver songs from the Bernstein Broadway musical, the same work that introduced the classic “New York, New York.” The concert will also feature Lukas Foss’ “Time Cycle” and Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915.”

8 p.m. Friday, Jan 31 and Saturday, Feb 1 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $22-$102, and are available at the MSO’s website or by calling (414) 291-7605.

“Opera’s Greatest Hits” by the Florentine Opera

The Florentine Opera is getting into the Valentine’s Day spirit early, putting on a performance celebrating classical love songs from throughout the operatic repertoire.

7:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31 and Saturday, Feb. 1. Tickets are $15 at the company’s website or by calling (414) 291-5700 ext. 224.

Progressions January Jubilee by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra

Students of the MYSO’s Progressions program, which teaches third and fourth grade students to play string instruments, will show off what they learned this weekend at the Progressions January Jubilee.

Thursday, Jan. 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Admission is free. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.

Tuesday Night Jam Session

For those interested in enjoying the musical talent of young Milwaukee musicians at no cost, the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra will be putting on its monthly Tuesday Night Jam Session. The events often feature favorite jazz professionals from the city.

7 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Jazz Gallery. For more information, visit the MYSO’s website.


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