Quartetto Gelato is a popular and highly unusual classical quartet. The group's concert programs typically offer a mixture of works, from the traditional (Weber, Brahms, Ravel, Kodály), to the folk-inspired (Neapolitan folk songs), to the operatic (arias and other numbers from famous operas), and arrangements of various works, classical and otherwise. Group violinist Peter de Sotto doubles as a tenor in the vocal works and plays the mandolin, as well. All the other original members of Quartetto Gelato also performed on more than one instrument in concert: Cynthia Steljes played both oboe and English horn; George Meanwell performed on cello, guitar, and mandolin; and Claudio Vena performed on accordion and viola.
Quartetto Gelato was formed in Toronto in 1993. The group's name, translated from Italian, is Ice Cream Quartet, a rather appropriate moniker for its colorful style. The ensemble almost immediately attracted attention after its debut concerts in 1994, not only for its considerable musical talents, but for its unusual programming and frequent clowning on-stage. Its first CD, simply titled Quartetto Gelato, was released in 1994 with great success.
In 1996 the ensemble received the Debut Artist of the Year award from National Public Radio's Performance Today. Two years later De Sotto was named Musician of the Year by the Toronto Musicians' Association, not least because of his efforts outside the realm of serious music: De Sotto founded Camp Rock to foster talent among young rock musicians.
By the turn of the new century, the Quartetto Gelato had developed a large classical and crossover audience. Recordings were consistent top sellers, too: the 2001 CD Neapolitan Café and 2004 release Travels the Orient Express both achieved impressive sales figures. The latter album featured music identified with locales along the route of the famous Orient Express train. Thus, one hears ethnic and other musical pieces associated with London and Instanbul and places in between. The ensemble's first compilation disc, Favorite Flavors, was released in 2005, but it would be 2009 before its next original release, Musica Latina.
Changes in personnel were made after the ensemble's first decade. De Sotto and Steljes stayed on as the only two original members of the group. In late December 2006, Steljes passed away after battling a rare form of lung cancer. Before her death, she was able to choose Shalom Bard as her successor. Although maintaining a touring schedule of more than 100 concerts throughout Canada and the U.S. every year, further changes occurred over the next few years. Alexander Sevastian replaced accordionist Joseph Macerollo, while cellists included Kristina Reiko Cooper, Elinor Frey, and Carina Reeves, and Kornel Wolak joined as clarinetist in 2008.