If you think of chamber music – if you think of it at all – you probably think classical composers, a skilled quartet working through Mozart and Brahms, pieces that have been played so often that the corners are all worn off of the notes. If you think modern chamber music, you think truly weird, atonic, arhythmic stuff where half of even the hard core fans leave at intermission.
Sybarite5 isn’t having any of that. Their amazingly eclectic set list in last Saturday’s show included three Radiohead songs, three Argentinian tangos, two Armenian folk songs, a Romanian/Gypsy piece, a couple of pop songs and, yes, one short work by Mozart. And even a Led Zeppelin tune to open the second set, accompanied by 40 or so of Fairbanks’ better youngsters on violins, violas, cellos and upright basses. Sybarite5 closed the show with a brilliant version of Turceasca, by Taraf De Haidouks (arr. Matt Van Brink). All the tunes were performed in a high energy, enthusiastic, impassioned style by five superbly talented musicians.
Sami Merdinian on violin brings an Argentinian enthusiasm to his playing. He’s a terrific, virtuoso violinist, and flashed spectacular runs and fingerings. Sarah Whitney, also on violin, is more restrained but may have even more technical excellence. They swapped first and second chairs throughout the show. Angela Pickett on viola and Laura Metcalf on cello are the solid center of the quintet. And Louis Levitt, on double bass – aside from his stunning resemblance to WC’s buddy Mark Wilkerson – teased amazing sounds and solid rhythmic counterpoint to the tunes. A bass, of course, is not part of your classic string quartet, but Levitt and the skilled arrangements performed by Sybarite5 make you wish it was.
Sybarite5 is the first string quintet to ever win the prestigious Concert Artists Guild Competition. They have redefined chamber music, making it new, accessible and far more diverse. And the put on an excellent show.
Thanks to Sybarite5 for coming to Fairbanks, and to Fairbanks Concert Association for bringing them to town.
*This is a promotional photo, and WC wasn’t able to track down the photographer. But that background is about the ugliest WC has ever seen.