The Ames Piano Quartet was unique in two ways: firstly, it was one of the very few active major piano quartets; secondly, all four players were faculty members at Iowa State University, where they were the resident chamber music ensemble. While the names of the individual members were not well known to most listeners, their credentials were formidable, both from their résumes and the reviews of their concerts and recordings. Indeed, one finds critics writing of their commitment, passion, power, and sensitivity, not to mention their collective technical skills. Their choice of repertory was broad, too, taking in works by Schumann, Brahms, Dvorák, Borodin, Taneyev, Fauré, Richard Strauss, and compositions by various lesser known figures, like
Czechs Suk, Novak, and Martinu and Brits Bridge, Stanford, Howells, Mackenzie, and Jacob. The APQ also played much American music, including works by Bolcom, Hoiby, and Richard Willis. It made numerous recordings for a variety of labels, including Albany, Dorian, and Musical Heritage Society.
The APQ was formed in 1976. In 2012 its members were pianist William David, violinist Mahlon Darlington, violist Jonathan Sturm, and cellist George Work. David, a student of the late György Sándor, was the only remaining founding member of the ensemble. Among the other players of the APQ, Work was next in seniority, having joined the group in 1981, while Darlington became the ensemble's violinist later in the decade and Sturm came on as a replacement in the late '90s for longtime member Laurence Burkhalter.
The ensemble attracted much attention even in its early years, touring widely and recording with acclaim. Among its more successful early recordings was the 1989 Musical Heritage Society CD of quartets by Chausson (in A major) and Saint-Saëns (in B flat major).
From the 1990s and extending well into the new century, the group was engaged in a series of highly successful recordings for both the Dorian and Albany labels. Among the more notable efforts was the highly praised Dorian CD of quartets by Taneyev and Borodin, issued in 2000. Among the group's recordings is the 2008 Albany CD of works by Piazzolla, Turina, Tansman, and Surinach.
Outside the recording studio, the group also attracted attention: the APQ's 2001 tour of Cuba, the first by an American chamber ensemble in nearly a half century, was highly acclaimed.
In the spring of 2012, David and Darlington decided to retire, and so Sturm and Work also decided to retire the Ames Piano Quartet name, forming a new group, the Amara Piano Quartet, to take its place.