The Alexander String Quartet, headquartered in San Francisco, is only now starting to make its way into the homes of millions via recordings on its own label, Foghorn Classics. Admired for its interpretations of Beethoven, Mozart, and Shostakovich, the quartet has also made its mark playing contemporary music via its many premiere performances, including more than 25 commissioned works. In addition to its premieres of entirely new music, the quartet has also become well known for its performances of Eddie Sauter’s Third Stream work Focus, originally recorded in the early 1960s by Stan Getz (on a Grammy-award winning disc). The quartet has played Focus with such famed saxophonists as Branford Marsalis, David Sanchez, and Andrew Speight.
Moreover, the four members of the group have diverse backgrounds. First violinist Zakarias Grafilo, for instance, served as principal second violinist of the Pacific Symphony, and concertmaster of the Stockton Symphony. He was also co-founder of the Chamberlain String Quartet, which was assistant quartet-in-residence to the Alexander String Quartet at San Francisco State University, before joining the Alexander group in 2002. Second violinist Frederick Lifsitz studied violin in his native Boston and at Indiana University, and has been an artist in residence at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies in Wye, Maryland. Violist Paul Yarbrough, a native of Clearwater, Florida, is a founding member of the Alexander Quartet. And then there is cellist Alexander “Sandy” Walsh-Wilson, a native of Northumberland, England, who completed his graduate studies at the Royal Danish Conservatory in Copenhagen as a recipient of two Danish government scholarships. After two years as principal cellist in Switzerland’s AML Orchestra (Lucerne), he moved to the United States in 1979, completing a degree at Yale as a student of Aldo Parisot and the Tokyo Quartet. He and Yarbrough founded the Alexander Quartet in 1981.
My introduction to them came via the albums In Friendship (reviewed below) and With Strings Attached (reviewed in my interview with chorus director Magen Solomon). I was immediately impressed by their rare combination of crisp, clean playing with a fair amount of elegance, lyricism, and panache. Thus it was easy for me to accept the assignment of interviewing Sandy Wilson, the group’s cellist and founder…