With no pre-announced program, picture taking encouraged, the first violinist clad in jeans and a large portion of the audience well under 30, regular classical music attendees might have wonder if they had arrived at the right venue Friday night.
They did, if they came to Brock Recital Hall to hear Sybarite5, the cutting-edge New York-based string quintet that is turning the concertgoing experience upside down. Even if it was the heart of classical repertoire you came to hear, you might have come away believers in the future of music.
Sybarite5 in Brock Recital Hall, Feb. 6, 2015
This talented and congenial group could easily be placed among established touring ensembles of classical music. Individually they are virtuosos; as a group they meld seamlessly. They could thrill listeners with Schubert or Dvorak, and no doubt they have. But they also engage listeners in unique ways, effectively bridging the old and the modern, the stuffy and the popular.
Launching into Piotr Szewczyk‘s “The Rebel,” with its driving offset rhythms and jazzy slides, the stage was set for what would be a wild ride through the last half century of modern music – of many stripes. With Dan Visconti‘s “Black Bend,” they breathed new life into 12-bar blues, the upper strings contributing frenetic improvs. Shawn Conley‘s “Flight” is a musical vision of Hawaii as seen from a hang glider, softly depicting airy space. Its musical language is reminiscent of Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla‘s tango-inspired music, which would follow with a wistfully romantic arrangement of “Milonga del Angel,” parts of which might have been mistaken for late 19th century chamber music. “La Muerte del Angel” was the energetic tango that showcased, more than any other work on the concert, the quintet’s virtuosity, lyricism and oneness.
No concert of this kind would be complete without Radiohead, the British rock group headed by Jonny Greenwood, many of whose tracks easily lend themselves to classical interpretations. “Weird Fishes,” “15 Step” and “No Surprises” surfaced here, each sounding fresh and vibrant and ranging from intensely rhythmic to inward and reflective. In between were Jessica Meyer‘s “Getting Home,” a musical account of the composer’s anxiety to meet her son; and sojourns to the folk music of Armenia and Romania.
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On Thursday, Sybarite5 held one of its “New Music Idol” competitions at a Samford coffee house. Entries were submitted by eight Samford music composition students, and the winning and runner-up (by one vote) compositions were premiered here. Given the two-minute limitation for entries, they were rather remarkable. Kyle McGucken’s “MQ-1\9” – named for predator drones, may be the only musical composition with a backslash in its title. It ominously depicts the sounds of aircraft in low, rumbling strings, and channels the emotions of people on the ground with Middle Eastern modes. Brianna Ware’s “Sorrow and Rage of a Demigod” portrays Achilles’ reaction to the death of Patroclus in Homer’s “The Iliad.” Though stylistically worlds apart, each succinctly dove into a complex narrative. More from these young composers would be most welcome.
The encore, Sybarite5’s arrangement of a-ha‘s mid-1980s hit “Take on Me,” managed to insert a few bars of “Flight of the Bumblebee,” as a reminder that this group can do just about anything it sets its collective mind to.
Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violinists
Angela Pickett, violist
Laura Metcalf, cello
Louis Levitt, bassist
Friday, Feb. 6, 2015
Brock Recital Hall, Samford University
Presented by Samford Wright Signature Series