Among the more acclaimed and active of American string quartets, the Manhattan String Quartet has garnered praise for a wide a variety of repertory, but especially for recordings and live performances of the 15 Shostakovich quartets. The MSQ has regularly toured the globe, appearing at major concert venues across the U.S., Europe, Canada, and South America. Its repertory takes in works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Schubert, Dvorák, Villa-Lobos, and many neglected American composers like Amy Cheney Beach, Edward Joseph Collins, and Howard Boatwright. The MSQ has made numerous recordings over the years spread over several labels, including ESS.A.Y., Albany Records, CRI, and Sony.
The Manhattan String Quartet was formed in 1970 by violinist Eric Lewis and cellist Judith Glyde. Lewis is still the ensemble's first violinist and only remaining original member; the other two original members were violinist John MacLeod and violist Andrew Berdahl.
There were nine personnel changes over MSQ's four-decade existence, with Lewis' brother Roy playing second violin for a time (1976-1993) and Glyde's sister Rosemary briefly serving as violist (1976-1978). In 2010, beside Lewis, the ensemble included second violinist Calvin Wiersma (joined 1995), violist John Dexter (1980), and cellist Chris Finckel (1992). The MSQ steadily built its imposing reputation from its early years and by the early '80s was recognized as among the leading American string quartets. In 1981 it became active in aiding young quartet members and string players by holding annual conferences on performance and teaching.
By the end of the 1980s the MSQ had become internationally celebrated, not least because of highly praised performances of the Shostakovich quartets. The multidisc recording of the complete cycle of the 15 Shostakovich quartets on ESS.A.Y. drew broad acclaim, with Time magazine selecting it as the Best of 1991 in the chamber music category.
Other acclaimed recordings followed, including a 1998 CRI disc of Howard Boatwright works (String Quartet No. 2, etc.). In 2001 the MSQ began hosting annual teaching and performance conferences in Europe, launching the program in Paris with an extensive analysis of the Debussy quartet. Further events were held in Prague (discussing Dvorák), Budapest (Bartók), and Vienna (Beethoven). In 2005 the MSQ toured Japan giving complete cycle performances of the 15 Shostakovich quartets in Tokyo and Nagoya. Critics heaped lavish praise on the MSQ for its spirited performances at these historic sold-out concerts.