Expect the unexpected at the first Quad City Symphony Up Close concert at the Raccoon Motel (315 E. 2nd St., Davenport) on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m.
The all-female crossover string quartet ATLYS is comprised of Jinty McTavish, violin, Rita Andrade, viola, Genevieve Tabby, cello, and the QCSO’s own Sabrina Tabby, violin. The ladies are lauded for their passionate and dynamic performances, signature sound, and their mesmerizing and interactive concert experiences, according to the orchestra’s website.
A Philadelphia native, Sabrina was trained at Bard College Conservatory of Music (in New York), and performed across four continents, as concertmaster of and soloist with the Conservatory Orchestra, in chamber groups, as well as in various baroque and new music ensembles.
In addition to her degree in performance, Sabrina also earned a bachelor’s degree in French Studies. She earned her master’s degree in music from Northwestern University. Her twin sister Genevieve also earned her master’s (in cello performance) at Northwestern. One of her recent highlights includes winning the Zarin Mehta fellowship with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, where she was contracted a week of concerts with the orchestra, as well as having private lessons and mock auditions with the principal cellist and other Philharmonic musicians.
In addition to her work with crossover ATLYS, Genevieve freelances around the Chicagoland area and teaches for many music institutions, including the well established Ravinia Festival’s El Sistema program.
ATLYS performed this past September at Wallenberg Hall, Rock Island, in a program of music by Jewish composers. It was part of the community-wide “Out of Darkness: Holocaust Messages for Today” series.
“It was special; I was so honored that I was part of it,” Sabrina Tabby (a four-year member of the QCSO) said recently.
Together since 2016
The four string players banded together in 2016, after being members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.
At the time, the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma was artist-in-residence for the ensemble. He did workshops with the orchestra, “to get everybody’s minds outside the box,” Tabby recalled. “He is very experimental with different genres, trying to cross everything and connect everything – the greater power of music that goes beyond playing perfectly.”
“He’s the best in the world. That was an inspiring catalyst to get us thinking about doing music outside of that,” she said of the classical tradition. “Immediately, we started playing and collaborating with vocalists, doing re-imagined covers.”
The quartet has focused almost exclusively on doing non-classical music, pushing the boundaries of programs and reveling in experimentation.
At the end of 2016, ATLYS began performing on a Holland America cruise ship, representing Lincoln Center, for five and a half months. They had another contract for six months in 2017.
“It’s such an incredible opportunity for young musicians,” Tabby said, noting they typically played three programs per day. But the Lincoln Center repertoire was more traditional (like Dvorak, Schumann and Brahms), with a pianist, she said, as well as ‘60s and ‘70s pop hits.
They traveled through the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Alaska and Hawaii.
“I feel very fortunate I’ve gotten to tour with orchestras even before that,” Tabby said. “I’ve been to China a couple times, eastern Europe. I was a French major undergrad, and I had been to France. This was totally something else, because being on the ship is so luxurious.”
The women used their time on the cruise ship strategically, including creating a lot of videos (see their YouTube channel HERE).
The ATLYS brand came together in 2017, Tabby said. The original name of the group was Atlas Music Project. They started touring in 2018 as ATLYS, with their own globe-spanning, varied repertoire, Tabby said.
Andrade, the violist, is based in California, and Genevieve Tabby and McTavish live in Chicago. Their rehearsals are condensed, close to any concert. They prepare individually and meet in person usually the day before, Sabrina said.
“It’s intense; it’s not a typical chamber music setup,” she said. “A lot of quartets live in the same city and rehearse like hours a day. We have weekly Zoom meetings, usually about two hours every week.”
They do a lot of videos and recording for other artists. When COVID shut performing down in 2020, they were already very used to working remotely, Tabby said.
“We did some great work during that time. We were just ready for it,” she said. “Thanks to the pandemic, what we started doing was remote recording, which is one at a time.”
The individual players record on their own, and the music is mixed together.
“We have so much experience that we can play separately, and still sound together,” Tabby said. “It’s a very careful, thorough process. It’s been great.”
“It’s nice for the fourth person who records, since they can hear the other three in their recording,” she said. “For the first person who goes, you have to have it in your imagination. It is an interesting challenge, but I’m into it. I‘m into how cool it can be and how flexible it makes us.”
Sabrina has performed with the QCSO since February 2019 and wishes her sister could join her. She has substituted here. “I would love to have her play here more,” Sabrina said, noting they all teach.
“I love being a big part of this community as a teacher,” she said.
Anything but classical
Their repertoire is basically anything but classical music, Tabby said. One piece on Saturday’s program was commissioned by a man in New York State, inspired by the Sonnenberg Gardens in a state park in the Finger Lakes. The suite has movements that each represent a different garden and ATLYS will record the work in August 2023.
The quartet has played at a music festival in that area every year since 2018, Tabby said, where they met the man who commissioned the neo-Romantic piece by Ari Fisher.
“He’s incredibly talented. He’s written a lot of the music, the arrangements that we play,” she said. Genevieve’s husband, Andrew Vogt, has written much of their other arrangements.
The Tabby sisters played for the soundtrack of a 2021 documentary, “Buried,” about a 1982 avalanche.
ATLYS seeks out varying styles, and plays in unique ways (typically while standing, except cello), Sabrina said. “We look for partners, collaborators who are really open-minded arrangers.”
“The arrangements are just incredible,” she said. “We want to be doing things we’ve never done before.” A recent recording was their cover of the huge pop hit “Call Me Maybe.”
The quartet works with the Orchestra Academy of America (OAcademy), and they’ll be the resident quartet (remotely), working with composers around the world, Tabby said.
ATLYS has done many workshops at schools (including in the Finger Lakes), but not yet part of the Quad City Arts Visiting Artist Series. They have made music videos with students, Tabby said.
Something so important to the quartet is to not sound like every other classical quartet, she noted. “We really want to be as authentic as we can, with the approach, the articulation. The vibrato for string players is one of the tells for whether you’re classical or not.”
They make percussive noises with their bows, which is definitely not classical, Tabby said. “It’s cool; it’s a fun challenge.”
No concert program
This weekend has no printed program. They will just announce pieces from the stage, like a rock concert. The violinists face each other from the edges of the foursome.
ATLYS also will use looping software, and several pieces will include that, where initial phrases are played live, recorded on the spot, and then repeated (or looped) for the musicians to play over.
“I love the shock value in people finding out what we’re playing,” Tabby said. “There will be tons of stuff people already know – some pop music, some video game music, some film music. Then more original ATLYS creations that are inspired by things.”
There are a few pieces that incorporate pre-recorded electronic music. “It’s just a different sound world than a typical string quartet,” she said. “We’re starting to branch out to elements that were not created by us.”
Their latest album, “Opus,” is acoustic versions of EDM (electronic dance music) they made with the DJ Seven Lions.
“We love that album,” Tabby said. That came out in December 2021. ATLYS usually releases singles every 6-8 weeks.
They also have recorded music from the video game “The Legend of Zelda,” with excerpts being released every so often, and the complete album coming this summer.
“They wanted to re-orchestrate the music of ‘Zelda,’ to spruce up the instruments,” Tabby said. “It’s really iconic stuff. I didn’t know it at all, since I didn’t grow up playing the game. It’s beloved music and it’s been cool to learn the music thois ay. It’s very cinematic and epic.”
“There’s a huge fan base,” she said, noting that was recorded remotely. “Opus” was recorded together in Seattle.
Alternative venues are ‘bread and butter’
While it’s unusual for the QCSO to have a chamber concert at Raccoon Motel, for ATLYS, it’s common.
“That’s like our bread and butter – we hardly ever play in a conventional hall,” Tabby said. “I’m really excited for the Raccoon Motel; it’ll be really great. We’ll see what the acoustics are like.”
They also are doing a shorter “family concert” program Sunday, Feb. 12 at Pleasant Valley High School, Bettendorf, at 4:45 p.m.
“I have 30 students; I’m really involved in the youth orchestra,” she said, noting her husband Ernesto Estigarribia is director of the QCSO youth ensembles.
“We cannot just play a concert for 21 and over,” Tabby said of the Raccoon. “It’s pointless. But at the same time, I’m very excited to be in that venue, because it’s very suited to the kind of music we’re gonna play.”
The QC Youth Symphony Orchestra will be rehearsing at PV that day. The 45-minute concert is free to members.
The quartet does not have first violin and second, as in classical quartets.
Tabby is also elated to play with the QCSO. “The orchestra is so good and the music-making, it’s so heartfelt. (Conductor) Mark Russell Smith’s standards are so high. I’m always over the moon,” she said, noting that’s not true with every orchestra.
“It speaks to everybody”
“The great thing about playing with ATLYS is that it speaks to everybody – it really does,” she said. “Not everyone can feel that way at a big symphonic concert, if we’re playing Bruckner, something really long.”
“I think our ATLYS performances, we tend to connect with audiences,” Tabby said, noting the stunning variety of short pieces. “There will be something for everyone, I feel pretty confident about that. It’s a wonderful experience.”
They play from preschools to senior citizen homes, and “everybody’s into it,” she said.
Some may see ATLYS as rejecting classical music, but that’s not the case, Tabby said.
“Maybe, it can be a gateway for people. We play this music because we enjoy playing it,” she said. “A lot of other people who don’t connect with classical music can enjoy it. I think the genre of chamber music is so intimate and electrifying, they might be able to get something out of another string quartet performance if they liked ours.”
ATLYS did play classical with the Muscatine Symphony (strings only) this past October.