The Alexander String Quartet is based in San Francisco, but was originally formed in New York City in 1981; the group consists of Zakarias Grafilo and Frederick Lifsitz on violins, Paul Yarbrough on viola, and Sandy Wilson on cello. The group made an impact early, winning the Concert Artists Guild Competition in 1982 and the London International String Quartet Competition in 1985. In 1996, the Alexander String Quartet began to record the complete Beethoven string quartet cycle for the German Arte Nova label; released as a box set in 1999, these performances were well received by critics worldwide. Since 2004, the Alexander String Quartet has recorded for its own Foghorn Classics label, with releases including a traversal of the Shostakovich string quartet cycle and a second Beethoven cycle. For its 30th anniversary, the Quartet commissioned a work for mezzo-soprano and quartet from Jake Heggie, premiered in February 2012.
The Alexander String Quartet has played in concert extensively within the continental U.S., but its travels have taken the group to Europe several times and to concert halls in the Pacific Rim, as well.