The Ancora String Quartet is based in Madison, Wisconsin. The members’ credentials include degrees from the University of Texas-Austin and the New England Conservatory. Individually, they have attended numerous chamber music festivals and performed across the United States and Europe.
The 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 La Crosse Symphony, and the Mosaic Chamber Players.
The quartet got its start in 2000, when violinist Robin Ryan bought a house, by chance, next door to founding 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 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 2016-2017 season marked a turning point for the ASQ, when Leanne League resigned from the quartet, and we welcomed Wes Luke as our new first violinist. We had the opportunity to coalesce as a new foursome that 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 following season saw performances in Beloit, Rock County, Spring Green, Watertown, and Madison, all leading up to a very exciting project: a concert tour in Germany, in collaboration with mezz0-soprano Melinda Paulsen. We programmed pieces by German and American composers, for quartet with mezzo and quartet alone, and performed for audiences in five German cities. Following that, Frau Paulsen flew to the States, and we were able to share this program with audiences across Wisconsin.
The pandemic changed the ASQ’s performance schedule, but did not shut it down completely. We were able to find a variety of outdoor venues in the summer and fall of 2020, where we shared our music-making with some very appreciative, music-starved audiences.
The year 2022 brought personal tragedy to the quartet when Marika was diagnosed with cancer. We got together to play in twos and threes for as long as we could, relishing our musical bond and friendhips. Marika passed in February 2023.
Robin, Benjamin, and Wes resumed performing in the fall of 2023 with guest violists. We are continually reminded of Marika’s joy in playing as the quartet carries forward her legacy.
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.
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.