The Fine Arts Quartet Lives!

The acclaimed quartet will not disband. But will it continue to play in Milwaukee?

By - Jan 25th, 2018 03:38 pm
The "new" Fine Arts Quartet.

The “new” Fine Arts Quartet.

Two concerts this weekend by the Fine Arts Quartet at UW-Milwaukee are sold out. (A waiting queue will be established to ensure that all the nearly 800 seats are filled.) The concerts mark the end of a 55-year residency. The Fine Arts Quartet, an internationally recognized chamber group, has served a unique role in Milwaukee. The ensemble has given eight concerts a year in Milwaukee and maintained a busy calendar of appearances around the world.

Some may be expecting a memorial event this weekend – the end of the residency and the 76 year history of the Fine Arts Quartet. For a few years after the end of the contract was announced in 2014, that seemed to be the case. Last winter, two members — cellist Robert Cohen and violist Juan-Miguel Hernandez — announced plans to retire from the group. But as it turned out, two chamber musicians with long ties to the FAQ were eager to take their place. And festivals in Europe and elsewhere were eager to continue bookings.

So this weekend marks not the end, but a transition for the quartet. After the concerts, the two guest artists – Gil Sharon and Niklas Schmidt – will become the new members. Each brings extensive, impressive credentials as chamber music performers on the international scene.

More locally known, Gil Sharon is the founder and artistic director of the Amati Ensemble, since 1992 in the Netherlands. He has appeared on many recordings as a violinist and over many years has appeared as guest violist during the Summer Evenings of Music in Milwaukee. Sharon has played with the Fine Arts Quartet at least 19 times in performance venues since 2001.

Niklas Schmidt was principal cellist of the Hamburg Symphony for many years. He appeared in Milwaukee Fine Arts Quartet concerts in January, 2016 and in June 2013. He has played with the quartet in European venues as well. He once studied with Wolfgang Laufer – former FAQ cellist. Schmidt is a professor at the University of Hamburg. He was a founding member of the Trio Fontenay, serving from 1980 to 1998. Schmidt has played with the Fine Arts Quartet at least eight times since 2001.

Violinists Ralph Evans and Efim Boico continue with the quartet. Evans is only the second player, after Leonard Sorkin, to hold the first violin position. He joined the FAQ in 1982. Boico came to the quartet just after Evans, in 1983. Boico and Sharon both played together in the Israeli Philharmonic. They both moved to Paris, where Boico served as concertmaster and soloist of the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim from 1979 to 1983.

The cellist position has been remarkably stable over 76 years as well. Cohen has been the third to serve in that position. Laufer served during most of Evans and Boico’s tenure, from 1979 to 2011. This continuity has had much to do with the consistent sound of the quartet over decades. In an interview with Jeremy Siepmann of Naxos, Evans reflected on his group’s sound.

“The Fine Arts Quartet may be unique these days, because, for better or for worse, we play in a style that reflects the ‘old-fashioned’ style. I admit to having been greatly influenced by the “Golden Age” master string players of the first half of the 20th century like Heifetz, Kreisler, Thibaud, Szigeti, Elman, Feuermann, Primrose. Each of these great artists displayed a gorgeous, expressive tone and a diversity of colours and styles.”

So the Fine Art Quartet lives! The more important question is whether they will return to perform in Milwaukee.

The UW-Milwaukee commitment sustained an attendance base, but one that took the Quartet for granted. This February will begin a community campaign to raise funds to support return engagements of the Fine Arts Quartet in Milwaukee. A June Festival, built upon the long tradition of Summer Evenings of Music, is being planned. Community response will make the difference — not just for this June but for subsequent years. Campaign information can be found online.

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