A special afternoon of music is guaranteed this Sunday at Augustana College’s Wallenberg Hall, on the second floor of Denkmann Memorial Building, 3520 7th Ave., Rock Island.
Titled “Their Music Survived,” the free concert is presented by the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, in conjunction with the community-wide project “Out of Darkness: Holocaust Messages for Today.” For more information on this important project, click HERE.
The female foursome describes themselves as a “classically trained, crossover string quartet,” experienced in various genres including pop, jazz and rock. “An ATLYS performance is more than an experience–it is a conversation between artist and audience,” according to its website.
The Wallenberg chamber program features all music by Jewish composers:
- Viktor Ullman (1898-1944), an Austrian composer, conductor and pianist of Jewish origin, who wrote highly charged, dissonant music. He died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in October 1944.
- Leo Smit (1900-1943) was a Dutch composer of Jewish background who was murdered in Sobibor, Poland, at the hands of Nazis.
- Szymon Laks (1901-1983) was a Polish violinist, conductor and composer. Arrested by the Germans in 1941, Laks spent three years in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau, but survived.
- Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), the most famous of this Sunday’s quartet of composers, was German and born to Jewish parents. Felix, together with his brother and two sisters, was baptized in 1816 as a Lutheran. Mendelssohn’s music was later banned by the Nazis during World War II.
The Augie concert will also feature commentary by Janina Ehrlich, a cellist and Augustana music professor.
In her J-term course (“From Ashes to Immortality: The Arts and the Holocaust”) she encourages students to ask challenging questions about the arts, their own humanity, and the need for empathy and goodness as they live their lives.
Ehrlich’s performance credits have included John Tavener’s “The Protecting Veil” as soloist with the Augustana Symphony and, with faculty pianist Charles Schmidt, a program of music by Jewish composers. Her current research project is titled “Cello Repertoire by Jewish Composers: An Annotated Bibliography.”
Quartet crosses boundaries
Sabrina Tabby said Friday that ATLYS formed in 2016, as the women were members of the Chicago Civic Orchestra. Their name is based on the “atlas” (or map), meaning they cross many musical boundaries.
“We’re actually an unconventional string quartet, like 100 percent,” she said, noting they’re mostly known covers of pop songs. They have six million streams on Spotify, and this will be their QC debut.
“So it was a wonderful fresh opportunity from Dr. Janina Ehrlich to do this concert,” Tabby said of the Augie professor suggesting the program. “I’m an adjunct faculty member at Augustana College, and so I have been scheming about doing projects together and so I’m glad she made this happen.”
“We love to discover music we are not familiar with, in addition to the the top songs that we all love,” she said. “We’ve we’ve gotten a chance to explore music from other cultures.”
The quartet had not known any of the World War II-era Jewish composers before.
“It was a tremendous honor to help bring light to this music,” Tabby said. “I am Jewish, and I’m grateful that both sides of my family were not directly involved in the Holocaust. They were all able to immigrate to the U.S.”
Her husband, Ernesto Estagarrribia — the QCSO associate conductor, music director of QC Symphony Youth Ensembles and Augustana director of orchestral activities — will conduct “Two Remain,” a chamber opera based on true stories of two Holocaust survivors, on Oct. 22. That will be at Augie’s Brunner Theatre, featuring a small orchestra, and Tabby is not playing for that.
It’s also fitting Sunday’s concert is at the private college’s Wallenberg Hall, named for the family of renowned Swedish businessman-turned-diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. He is credited with saving as many as 100,000 Jews during a seven-month mission to Budapest near the end of World War II, before his January 1945 arrest by Soviet troops and subsequent disappearance.
Considered one of the great heroes of World War II, Wallenberg personally helped thousands of Hungarian Jews get protective passports, food, medicine and safe housing. “He alternately threatened and bribed the Nazis until he managed to secure the release of those who had been given his Swedish passports,” according to www.raoulwallenberg.net.
In 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed legislation naming Wallenberg an honorary American citizen.
ATLYS also will be featured as a quartet soloist with the Muscatine Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 8 at Wesleyan United Methodist Church in Muscatine. To learn more about the ATLYS string quartet, click HERE.