The Sound and the Fusion
Two Seaver faculty members make beautiful music together.
The group has been hailed by critics as having a “rare” and “invigorating” sound that composers like Mozart and Brahms would feel proud to have influenced. But don’t label the music that Quattro produces classical. Or pop. Or jazz.
“Popzzical,” a genre the foursome created to define their unique combination of sounds, is a blend of the classical style cellist Giovanna Moraga Clayton and violinist Lisa Dondlinger were trained to play; the rock/pop/jazz influences that Berklee- trained guitarist Kay-Ta Matsuno grew up listening to; and the Latin sound that percussionist Jorge Villanueva studied.
“We’ve all worked on our crafts for over three decades and really come together as studio musicians first,” says Clayton, a former Pepperdine student who joined the Seaver College music faculty this year as an adjunct professor. “We all have different tunes and, with Quattro, are able to really show what we do on our instruments and vocally.”
“But,” she continues, “it’s always surprising. People are never expecting what they hear.”
Though Clayton and Dondlinger knew each other from the classical realm and the studio world, Quattro first came together for a fundraiser at Clayton’s home, where the ensemble discovered that the blending of their disparate styles was worth pursuing.
Time passed and personal projects interrupted rehearsal schedules. One year after their debut performance, and a month after their first rehearsal as a group, the ensemble was hired for their first gig: playing a classical concert series. The audience reception was too overwhelming to ignore.
“People were going so crazy that we decided we needed to be something,” recalls Dondlinger. “We weren’t necessarily setting out to form a band, but it worked out really well and everybody loved the music, so we decided to keep it going.”
“It was the first time that we really showcased what we had come up with together,” says Clayton, a familiar face in the Hollywood music scene. She regularly plays in the Academy Awards and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestras, has recently recorded with Barbra Streisand, Will.i.am, and Michael Bublé, and is credited on blockbuster films Rio 1 and 2 and Epic. She is also the principal cellist for the TV show Mad Men.
“The audience started getting a feel for what it was that made the group really great. It was a little nerve-racking, because we were all putting ourselves out there. We all put our dreams up on that stage and waited to see what happened.”
The foursome, all professional musicians in Los Angeles, tapped their own personal connections with different musicians and concert organizations to expose their unique sound to more audiences. After playing to enthusiastic crowds at jazz clubs and outdoor festivals, the group launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their first album, Poppzical, which was released in April of 2013. That year Quattro’s unique sound earned them a nomination for “Best New Artist” at the Latin Grammy Awards.
For violinist and vocalist Dondlinger, who has worked with musicians such as Celine Dion and has performed on the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, and shows like American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, the recognition was the highlight of her musical career.
“For many years I’ve been a studio and backing musician for other artists,” she says. “With Quattro it was the first time that I was able to step forward and be the artist myself. That was a huge turning point for me.”
The classically trained violinist also spends one day a week teaching violin at Seaver College.
“Teaching is so special because I was lucky to have amazing teachers growing up,” Dondlinger explains. “It’s a great way for me to give back to the musical community. I’m able to assess these students one-on-one and get involved in their musical lives, sometimes a bit of their personal lives, and help shape them into young adults. It’s a really, really amazing experience to be a part of that.”
As a band, Quattro is committed to giving back to the community and takes great pride in their philanthropy.
Among their many fundraising events, they have performed benefit concerts for the Help Group, the largest nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that serves special needs children and their families, a cause close to Dondlinger’s heart.
“My son has autism, so that event was very important to me,” she explains. “Entire families got up and did conga lines and danced. It was an environment where the kids could be completely comfortable to do whatever the music made them feel. It was so, so special.”
Beyond their day jobs, which keep them plenty occupied, Quattro constantly seeks opportunities to continue to build on the impressive momentum they have already achieved as a group.
“We start to wonder, ‘How can we get this going again? How can we keep it moving?’ but the minute we start playing together, it’s completely clear,” says Dondlinger. “We have a great time, we start making new music,and we go through the music we’ve already done and make it better so that every concert is better than the last.”
Clayton enthuses, “People feel it and it’s infectious, and when you can make other people feel something—hopefully something good—it really speaks volumes for what it is that you’re doing.”