The Ancora String Quartet is based in Madison, Wisconsin. The members’ credentials include degrees from the Indiana University School of Music and the University of Texas-Austin, as well as study at the New England Conservatory and Eastman School of Music. Individually, they have attended numerous chamber music festivals and performed across the United States and Europe.
The four players have well-established individual musical careers as soloists, chamber musicians and orchestral players. They perform constantly in Madison and beyond, appearing regularly in such ensembles as the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble, and the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne IN.
The quartet got its start in 2000, when violinist Robin Ryan bought a house, by chance, next door to violist Marika Fischer Hoyt, and recognized (with some difficulty) a fellow participant at a Vermont chamber music festival 14 years previously. Both musicians began playing with the Madison Symphony, met other local string players, and decided to form a quartet. When violinist Leanne Kelso League and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb joined the group, the ensemble was ready to try its wings. For five years, the quartet gave recitals in various concert halls and churches in Madison and surrounding cities, including Stoughton, Beloit and Whitewater.
The quartet’s breakthrough 2006-2007 season saw its establishment as String Quartet in Residence at the First Unitarian Society (FUS) of Madison, as well as its first appearance on the ‘Sunday Afternoon Live’ series at the Chazen Art Museum. “You guys rock!” proclaimed WPR host Lori Skelton, summing up the response of the overflow crowd.
Subsequent seasons built on that solid foundation; the 2007-2008 season saw the beginning of a love affair with the local press, with favorable reviews coming in from Isthmus’ John Barker and Sandy Rucker-Tabachnick. The love affair was celebrated in the 2009-2010 Critics’ Choice Season, with recital programs selected for ASQ by three prominent Madison classical music critics: Isthmus’ John Barker, The Capital Times’ Jacob Stockinger, and Wisconsin Public Radio’s Norman Gilliland. The ASQ celebrated its 10th Anniversary, as well as its fifth year as Quartet In Residence at FUS, in its 2010-2011 Ancora and Friends Season, highlighting the connections it has built up over the years. In the 2011-2012 season, the ASQ explored the working relationships between four master composers, and the violinists who inspired and premiered their quartets. Entitled The Musician and His Muse, that season culminated in performances of the famous Mendelssohn Octet, with the Madison Symphony’s Rhapsodie String Quartet.
In this 2012-2013 concert season, the ASQ celebrates twelve years together with its Shakespearian-themed Twelfth Season: “If music be the food of love, play on!” Inspired by local theatrical stagings of the comedy Twelfth Night, at the American Players Theater in Spring Green as well as at the Young Shakespeare Players in Madison, this season’s recital programs include selections from Mendelssohn’s 12 Fugues for String Quartet (1821), from Dvorak’s 12 Cypresses, and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 12, which utilizes 12-tone techniques.
Leanne Kelso League is a versatile performer with an active concert schedule in the region. Sought after as a performer in many different roles, Leanne is an associate concertmaster of the Madison Symphony and assistant concertmaster of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. She also performs frequently with the Ancora String Quartet and the UW-Whitewater Piano Trio.
During her three-year fellowship in New World Symphony under Michael Tilson Thomas, she received lessons from many well-known teachers including William Preucil, Alexander Treger, Jorja Fleezanis, and Marylou Speaker Churchill. She has performed at several prestigious festivals including the Tanglewood Music Festival, Festival dei Due Mondi in Italy, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, and the National Repertory Orchestra. Leanne completed her undergraduate degree at Florida State University studying with Karen Clarke. She earned her master’s degree at UW-Madison, studying with Vartan Manoogian.
Continuing the musical tradition that fostered her own growth, Leanne is a dedicated teacher. She teaches violin and viola at the UW-Whitewater, and has maintained a private studio for nearly twenty years. She was awarded the WI ASTA Teacher of the Year Award in 2010, and helps each one of her students to find and develop an artistic voice through the violin.
Robin Ryan is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Robin, originally from Massachusetts, studied violin at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston with Eric Rosenblith and Marylou Speaker Churchill. She played in the Conservatory’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Benjamin Zander. For many summers Robin attended Greenwood music camp in Cummington, Massachusetts and then the Yellow Barn Music Festival in Putney, Vermont. Robin majored in government at Harvard University, has a master’s degree in public affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law. She served as an attorney for the Wisconsin State Legislature for 10 years. Robin is currently the Director of Community Justice Programs for ARC Community Services, Inc., an organization that provides services for women in Wisconsin.
Marika Fischer Hoyt maintains a demanding concert schedule on both modern and baroque viola. On modern viola, she is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and of the Ancora String Quartet, and serves as principal viola of the Sinfonia Sacra of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. On baroque viola she is the principal violist of the Madison Bach Musicians and of the Bach Collegium of Fort Wayne, IN, and she performs occasionally with the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble as well. Before moving to Madison in 1999 Marika played with many orchestras and chamber ensembles around the country, including the Richmond (VA), Charleston (WV), and Des Moines (IA) Symphonies.
In a surprise development, Marika launched a broadcasting career in the summer of 2012, and currently serves as host of the classical music radio shows Saturday Afternoon and Sunday Afternoon Classics on Wisconsin Public Radio. In this capacity she also delivers pre-concert lectures for ensembles such as the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra.
Marika earned her B.A. in Music from Smith College, graduating Cum Laude, and her M.M. in Viola Performance from the Indiana University School of Music. Her musical training also includes a year at the Hochschule für Musik in Hamburg, Germany, two years at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, and one year at IU’s Early Music Institute, where she studied with baroque violinist Stanley Ritchie. Her major teachers include violists Kim Kashkashian, Csaba Erdélyi, and Abraham Skernick.
Dr. Benjamin Whitcomb, cellist and music theorist, has earned an international reputation as a performer and teacher of music. An active recitalist and chamber musician, he performs more than thirty concerts a year. He appears regularly on Wisconsin Public Radio. He collaborates with pianist Vincent de Vries in frequent recitals around the country and overseas, and he is a member of the UW-Whitewater Piano Trio. Benjamin is a frequent guest clinician and performer at universities and conferences throughout the country and abroad. His book, The Advancing Cellist’s Handbook, has received rave reviews from Strings magazine plus the journals of ASTA and AUSTA. A companion book, The Advancing Bassist’s Handbook, was published in 2013. He is a contributing author to Sharpen Your String Technique and Teaching Music through Performance in Orchestra. He has published numerous articles on cello and on music theory, and has presented many papers at national and international conferences as well. He is also a reviewer for the American String Teacher journal, and has served as Secretary of ASTA.
Whitcomb is a Professor of Cello and Music Theory at the University of Wisconsin- Whitewater, where he has received awards for his teaching, research, and service. Also at UW-Whitewater, he initiated and continues to coordinate the Theory/History Colloquium speaker series, the Music Mosaics Faculty Concert Series, the Chancellor’s Quartet program, and the Summer Strings Camp. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Oklahoma State University, and he has studied with Phyllis Young, George Neikrug, and Evan Tonsing.