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Flash Classical in Pawling

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Dec 17th, 2016

Sybarite5: Sarah Whitney, Laura Metcalf, Sami Merdinian, Angela Pickett, Louis Levitt

What is “flash classical”? I’m not sure. Ransacking my mind for a vocabulary to describe Sybarite5, I arrived at that term. Sybarite5 is a group of talented classical musicians who tread through the world of classical, jazz, folk, and pop music, as well as contemporary avant garde. This eclectic flexibility allows them to perform for a variety of audiences. As a group, they sound intimately connected, capable of both sturdiness and delicate fragility in their sound.

Sybarite5 was the first string quintet ever selected as a winner of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition. They opened their Friday night concert in Gardiner Theater at Trinity-Pawling School with “The Rebel” by Piotr Szewczyk which painted a driving melodic Romanticism. (The video posted below this article begins with this newly recorded piece.) They moved on to “Weird Fishes” composed by Radiohead, the British rock band with classical influences and inflections. “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi is a smooth solo piano piece arranged for this quartet. The arrangement was quirky and interesting, yet it sounded choppy compared to the ice-gliding original written for the 1965 film soundtrack of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Violist Angela Pickett tossed off nerdy jokes about this favorite of hers. This was followed by two Armenian folk-songs composed by Komitas. Here Sami Merdinian excelled on violin in the first piece, while Louis Levitt thumped with exuberance on the following folk dance.

They continued with another Radiohead number, “No Surprises,” in an arrangement of their own that was a marvelous improvement on the original. “NuPak Kannon,” a composition and arrangement by young trumpeter Brandon Ridenour, offered a mix of baroque structure and intonation combined with rhythms of pop entertainer Tupac. After a Piazzolla tango that was more pleasantly sweet than passionate, they performed a second piece from their forthcoming album Outliers: “Allemande pour Tout le Monde” by Kenji Bunch where Sarah Whitney performed exciting meditative runs on violin, while Laura Metcalf offered soaring melodies on cello. Metcalf recently released her solo album "First Day" this past April on the Sono Luminus label, debuting at #7 on the Billboard classical chart. There is a spontaneous immediacy to her playing that is riveting.

They arranged long sections from Arcangelo Corelli’s orchestral “Christmas Concerto No. 6” for five instruments; they sounded like an orchestra. This alone was worth more than the price of admission. Another composition from their forthcoming album by Shawn Conley, "Yann's Flight," took me into the upper atmosphere. I felt transported in air. They concluded with a Christmas theme: a medley of Christmas tunes arranged by Vince Guaraldi, ending with an infectious jazz theme.

Sybarite5 is an unusual group of extraordinarily talented musicians. Their upcoming album Outliers sounds like an eye-opener: all compositions for the album were exclusively written for Sybarite5. This album, scheduled to be released next month, will feature ten tracks of extraordinary new works written by composers around the globe.