The Fine Arts Quartet has been one of the longest enduring major string quartets in the modern era, and despite numerous personnel changes over the years, its collective talent and style have remained consistent. The group is known for the diversity and breadth of its repertoire, which in addition to the traditional literature encompasses contemporary pieces and rarely-played older works. The FAQ is almost unique among American string quartets in having made appearances on such major U.S. television programs as The Today Show and The Ed Sullivan Show. It has also appeared on countless radio and public television broadcasts, both in the U.S. and Europe, and as of 2012 has recorded over 200 works for such labels as Naxos, Music & Arts, and Lyrinx, and, in the more distant past, Columbia Masterworks, Everest, and Vox. The FAQ has made numerous tours of North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and appeared at the major concert venues in New York, London, Rome, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Jerusalem, Istanbul, Beijing, Tokyo, and many other cities. The group continues to tour and expand its recorded repertoire.
The Fine Arts Quartet was founded in Chicago in 1946. The original players, all then-current or one-time members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, were Leonard Sorkin (first violin), Joseph Stepansky (second violin), Sheppard Lehnhoff (viola), and George Sopkin (cello). The ensemble had nearly formed in 1940, with second violinist Ben Senescu, but the war delayed establishment until 1946.
From its founding through 1954, the FAQ played regularly on Sunday mornings for ABC radio network broadcasts. It began making occasional television appearances, in the 1950s, and in 1958 it launched its annual European tours. In the late 1960s the FAQ toured Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia under sponsorship of the U.S. State Department. Since 1963, the FAQ has made the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee its base of operations.
In 1979 Wolfgang Laufer replaced Sopkin, who had served for 33 years, as the ensemble's cellist, and in 1982, Ralph Evans replaced first violinist Leonard Sorkin, the last original member. There have been numerous other changes over the years, particularly in the viola post (nine players serving until 2009) and second violin (four until 1983). In 2009 Nicolo Eugelmi replaced Chauncy Patterson as violist, joining Evans, Laufer, and Efim Boico, who has served as second violinist from 1983. After Laufer's death in 2011, cellist Robert Cohen joined the quartet in 2012, and soon after, Juan-Miguel Hernandez became violist.
The Quartet's recordings have received many awards and recognitions from Gramophone Magazine, Musicweb International, BBC Music Magazine, and American Record Guide, as well as multiple Grammy nominations. Among the group's acclaimed recordings are the 1998 Dvorák quartets, opp. 96 and 105, the 2003 complete Mozart string quintets, both on Lyrinx, and the 2011 Fauré piano quintets on Naxos. Other significant recordings include Ysaÿe's Harmonies du Soir, the complete quartets of Schumann and Haydn, the complete Bruckner chamber music, and the complete Dohnányi string quartets and piano quintets. Over the years, the Quartet has recorded more than 200 works.
In recognition of the group's commitment to contemporary music, it received a 2003-2004 Award for Adventurious Programming from Chamber Music America and ASCAP.