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.
The 2013-2014 Season marked the ASQ’s 13th year of presenting recitals in Wisconsin, and where one door closed last year, others opened. Our creative response to our first violinist’s leave of absence was to reach out to and collaborate with other musical colleagues. In the fall we explored repertoire combining strings and woodwinds, joined by Robin Fellows, flute, Christian Ellenwood, clarinet, and Carol Rosing, bassoon, with quartets by Pleyel, Bärmann and Danzi. In the Spring we joined with pianist Myung Hee Chung in a program of piano quartets by Mozart, Bridge and Turina.
The 2014-2015 Season SUN AND SHADOW also saw collaborations with our fellow local musicians. That year we returned to the string quartet repertoire, with the help of violinists Wes Luke and Eleanor Bartsch. Wes joined us for performancesof Haydn’s Op. 20 #4, the Quartet In One Movement by Amy Beach, and Mendelssohn’s final quartet in F Minor, Op. 80. Eleanor joined us for a program in the Spring, featuring Beethoven’s Op. 95, Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 1, and Brahms Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67.
Violinist Leanne League rejoined the Ancora String Quartet for the ’15-’16 season, for programs of old favorites as well as pieces that were new to the quartet. Our Fall and Spring programs included works by Mendelssohn, Dohnányi, Wolf, Mozart, Schubert, and, in a surprise, a Romance by Sir Arthur Sullivan.
The 2016-2017 season marks a turning point for the ASQ: Leanne League has resigned permanently from the quartet, and we welcome Wes Luke as our new first violinist. We had the opportunity to coalesce as a new foursome this summer, performing a recital series under the auspices of the fabulous Green Lake Festival of Music. The free recitals took place in public libraries in cities as large as Oshkosh and Green Bay and towns as small as Princeton and Berlin, and were enthusiastically received by young and old.
The ASQ looks forward to sharing beautiful music with Wisconsin audiences in this, its Sixteenth Season, and for many seasons to come.
Wes Luke is a violinist and educator who performs and teaches across the upper Midwest. He currently serves as the Concertmaster of the LaCrosse (WI) Symphony Orchestra, the Principle Second Violinist of the Dubuque (IA) Symphony Orchestra, and a section violinist in the Madison (WI) Symphony Orchestra. He also regularly plays in the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Wisconsin Philharmonic, where he has also served as Concertmaster. A frequent recitalist, he performs with the Mosaic Chamber Players based in Madison, WI and the Concordance Ensemble, which performs new music throughout Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Wes currently serves on the teaching faculties of the University of Dubuque, Divine Word College, and Loras College and has performed at music festivals in the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Japan. Wes holds degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA, where he studied under Boston Symphony Concertmaster Malcolm Lowe, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, under Felicia Moye. His principal early studies were with Suzuki Viola School author Doris Preucil.<a
Benjamin 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. An active recitalist and chamber musician, he performs more than thirty concerts a year around the country and overseas. He is a member of the Ancora String Quartet and the UW-Whitewater Piano Trio. Dr. Whitcomb is a frequent guest clinician and performer at universities and conferences throughout the country and abroad. His books, The Advancing String Player’s Handbook series, Cello Fingerings, and Bass Fingerings, Compendium of Chords for Strings series, and the Guide to Practicing the Popper Etudes have received rave reviews from numerous string journals. 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 dozens of papers at national and international conferences as well. He is also a reviewer for the American String Teacher journal, and has served on the Board of Directors of ASTA.
At UW-Whitewater, Whitcomb initiated and continues to coordinate the Theory/History Colloquium speaker series, the Musical Mosaics Faculty Concert Series, the Chancellor’s Quartet program, and the Summer String 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.