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ATLYS strikes a balance between pop and classical


ATLYS is (left to right) violist Rita Andrade, cellist Genevieve Tabby, and violinists Jinty McTavish and Sabrina Tabby. - PHOTO BY AZUREE WIITALA
  • ATLYS is (left to right) violist Rita Andrade, cellist Genevieve Tabby, and violinists Jinty McTavish and Sabrina Tabby.
String quartet ATLYS auspiciously opened its self-titled 2019 album with Australian singer-songwriter Sia’s sweeping pop hit “Chandelier.” And while the classical music medium of the quartet is known for its technical precision, it wouldn’t have been enough for ATLYS, which plays at Nazareth University on February 9, to simply hit all the notes.

Violinists Jinty McTavish and Sabrina Tabby, violist Rita Andrade, and cellist Genevieve Tabby used the spaces between the notes to build searing emotion and create tension, clueing listeners in to exactly where the melody was going.

Since 2016, ATLYS has found new ways to inject life into other familiar pop songs as well, covering artists such as Beyoncé, Coldplay, Björk, Jason Mraz, Ed Sheeran, and Billie Eilish.

“We do interpret pop songs and see them as a vessel for the string quartet to show virtuosity,” said violinist Sabrina Tabby.

But virtuosity can be a tricky thing to showcase, particularly within a pop song structure that has repeating verses and nearly identical musical material. Tabby said creating variations through the use of different textures, alternate chord progressions, and slightly modified melodies can make a fresh experience from recognizable songs.

ATLYS has been a classical crossover act since its inception in 2016, when the four musicians were inspired to form the group after collaborating with famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma as members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago.

Tabby admits the idea of a string quartet playing pop music is not groundbreaking, but also noted that an inaccurate and unhealthy dichotomy exists between the pop and classical worlds for the musicians interested in working in both. The former is perceived to be basic and unrefined, while the latter is considered to be more complicated — and more valuable, as a result. ATLYS rejects that duality as false.

“We just always approach everything like it is Beethoven, with the level of detail and nuance — it’s infinite,” Tabby said.

The quartet will also perform excerpts from a contemporary classical work with local roots: “The Sonnenberg Suite” by composer Ari Fisher. After ATLYS was asked to help create music inspired by the historic Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion in Canandaigua, Fisher was commissioned to write the neoromantic piece.

ATLYS performs at Beston Hall in the Glazer Music Performance Center at Nazareth University on Friday, February 9, at 7: 30 p.m.  Tickets are $20-$40; complimentary and discounted tickets available for Nazareth students, faculty and staff.

Daniel J. Kushner is an arts writer at CITY. He can be reached at [email protected].