The Panocha Quartet is regarded by many critics and concertgoers as the finest Czech quartet from the latter twentieth and early twenty first centuries. Not surprisingly, the group has focused much of its attention on Czech repertory, with Dvorák, Janácek, Smetana, Martinu, and others often dominating their concert programs and recordings. But their repertory must ultimately be judged as broad and inclusive of many styles and periods as it encompasses works by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Bartók, Shostakovich, and other lesser-known non-Czech composers. The ensemble has made numerous, highly successful recordings, mostly for the Czech label Supraphon.
In 1968 a group of four talented student string players at the Prague Conservatory formed the Panocha Quartet. The name they chose comes from the ensemble's lead member, first violinist Jiri Panocha. The group's other players are violinist Pavel Zejfart, violist Miroslav Sehmoutka, and cellist Jaroslav Kulhan. Naturally, the Panocha Quartet occasionally expands or contracts its number to accommodate different-sized works, using pianists, double bass players, harmonium players, and various other instrumentalists.
The Panocha Quartet built its reputation steadily in the early years of its career, achieving its first significant breakthrough in 1975 at the Prague International String Quartet Competition, where the group captured first prize. Other important awards and citations followed quickly, including the Bordeaux Gold Medal in 1976. The first recordings began attracting attention in the coming years, and for these early efforts the group received several awards, including the Paris-based Grand Prix Academy Charles Cros in 1983. This latter honor was given for a critically acclaimed Supraphon disc of the Martinu Fourth and Sixth quartets.
In the latter decades of the twentieth century and the early years of the new millennium, the Panocha Quartet concertized busily, traveling to festivals and concert halls throughout Europe, Israel, Japan, Australia, and numerous exotic locales, as well. During that time the quartet also made more than 15 tours of the United States and Canada. In addition, the Panocha players managed to build up a sizable discography for the Supraphon label, including a cycle of the Dvorák quartets (as well as other works to make up the Czech master's complete chamber output) that many critics consider definitive. Other studio efforts included the 2004 release of the Fibich Piano Quartet, Op. 11, and the Quintet, Op. 42, with guest artists Marian Lapsansky (piano), Ludmila Peterkova (clarinet), and Vladimira Klanska (French horn).