The Gewandhaus-Quartet is the oldest continuously active string quartet in the world. It was founded in 1808 by four members of the Gewandhausorchester, under the leadership of the Orchestra's concertmaster, August Matthäi. The Quartet can look back with pride on an uninterrupted history spanning a period of more than two centuries, since retiring members have continually been succeeded by younger principal musicians drawn from the ranks of the Gewandhausorchester, generation for generation. The current membership of the Quartet comprises Frank-Michael Erben, Conrad Suske, Anton Jivaev (guest) and Léonard Frey-Maibach (guest).
In addition to its extensive series of concerts in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, the Gewandhaus-Quartet is a frequent and celebrated guest at chamber music festivals throughout Europe, in Japan, the USA and South America. Private performances have been given at the invitation of Emperor Akihito of Japan and the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles. The Quartet was honoured to accompany the German President, Roman Herzog, on a state visit to Argentina.
In June 2006, the Quartet accepted an invitation from King Juan Carlos to perform in the Palacio Real in Madrid on a quartet of instruments belonging to the Spanish royal family, built by Antonio Stradivari in 1709. The Gewandhaus-Quartet is the subject of a major series of filmed performances produced by the Japanese broadcasting corporation, NHK.
In recent decades the Gewandhaus-Quartet has joined forces with a quite exceptional panoply of musicians, including Yo Yo Ma, Julian Rachlin, Sabine Meyer, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Alfred Brendel, Menahem Pressler, Rudolf Buchbinder, Lars Vogt and Alfredo Perl. This is the continuation of an unparalleled tradition of collaboration with the world's finest musicians, including Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Max Reger and Arthur Nikisch, to name but a few.
Ever since its very earliest years, the Gewandhaus-Quartet has been a committed advocate of the music of its contemporaries. Many of the world's most eminent composers have entrusted the Quartet with the first performances of their work, for instance Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, Robert Schumann, Max Bruch, Antonín Dvořák, Max Reger and Ferruccio Busoni. In more recent times, the ensemble has given world premieres of music by Olav Kröger, Günter Kochan, Ermano Maggini, Dietmar Hallmann and Günter Neubert.
The Gewandhaus-Quartet's exceptional discography boasts an enormous number of critically-acclaimed releases. The journal Klassik heute praised the recording of Beethoven's late quartets for being a "benchmark-setting interpretation", describing the Gewandhaus-Quartet as "one of the best quartet formations in the world." The Quartet's complete cycle of Beethoven's string quartets (the ensembles's only complete recording of Beethoven's string quartet œuvre) is available in a 10-CD boxed set. This Edition won the Deutsche Schallplattenkritik award for chamber music in 2004. The recording of Joseph Haydn's three quartets op. 76 No. 2-4 received the recognition of Bavarian Radio's Hörempfehlung.
The Gewandhaus-Quartet's discography also includes recordings of string quartets by both Schumann und Mendelssohn, of which it had the privilege of giving the first performances.
To mark its 200th anniversary, the ensemble released an album featuring both contemporary and historical live recordings, the earliest of which dates from as far back as 1928. The following year, in 2009, the Quartet released a 4-CD set of the complete string quartets of Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.
In 2012, the Society of Friends of the Beethoven House in Bonn bestowed honorary membership upon the Gewandhaus-Quartet. The Quartet was awarded the International Mendelssohn Prize in the category music in 2014.