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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm
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Sybarite5 performs and inspires on campus

Sybarite5 performed onstage in Herrick Chapel last Monday. Photo by Chris Lee
Sybarite5 performed onstage in Herrick Chapel last Monday. Photo by Chris Lee

What do Mozart and Radiohead have in common? Sybarite5 can play both of them with passion.

Students, faculty and community members came to see the string quintet’s unique take on chamber music at its performance last Monday, Nov. 10 in Herrick Chapel. The group did not disappoint, layering beautiful melodies atop percussive rhythms made from hitting or plucking its instruments and performing music from a variety of genres and composers.

“We all spend a lot of time studying our instruments,” said Louis Levitt, the double bass player. “In doing that, you become aware of a lot of sounds you can make that maybe aren’t traditional.”

In addition to Levitt, Sybarite5’s members include Sarah Whitney and Sami Merdinian, violins, Angela Pickett, viola and Laura Metcalf, cello.

While all five of the group’s members are classically trained, they have learned to expand into other genres. Notably, Sybarite5 frequently plays covers of Radiohead, and has an ongoing project called Radiohead Remixed, which involves commissioning composers to arrange many of the band’s songs for a string quintet.

“I’ve been listening to Radiohead since I was in high school and just love the band so much. They’ve been my favorite band for a really long time,” Metcalf said.

Merdinian has a different perspective. He has recently learned to love the band, having joined Sybarite5 a year after the others.

“In my case, I started playing Radiohead before I started listening to them,” Merdinian said.

The group’s dynamic presence was one of the reasons the Public Events Committee wanted to bring them to Grinnell.

“They’ve been on our list for a while as a group of interest,” said committee member Rachel Bly. She noted that student attendance at classical performances has dropped in recent years, and bringing in a group that could play both classical and modern music was an attempt to make the experience more engaging.

As a quintet with such a unique style, the group did not start out with a large catalog of music available to them.

“Because we’re a string quintet, there’s really not a lot of repertoire already written for us, so … we can kind of create anything we want and pretty much play anything we want,” Whitney said.

Because of this, Sybarite5 has commissioned over 100 pieces of music, and works with various composers who can collaborate with them to create the perfect arrangement for the group.

“There’s always something really special about getting to work with a composer,” Metcalf said.

And the group’s interaction with composers continued during its visit to Grinnell, where part of it involved working with students, including the Intro to Composition class taught by Professor Eric McIntyre, Music, where they answered questions and gave students the chance to see them perform up close.

“It’s both kind of inspiring and intimidating. They’re so good,” said Dan DeLay ’17, a member of the class.

He said they told him that as a composer, the best way to learn to write music for a string quintet is to play a string instrument.

“That kind of was inspiring. I want to play more, practice more viola now,” DeLay said.

Sybarite5 also let the class look over their shoulders so they could see the sheet music as the group played, complete with the notation for all their nontraditional sounds.

“A lot of the songs that they play make use of lot of extended techniques on their instruments, meaning basically sounds that you wouldn’t hear in common practice,” DeLay said, “… but I think they use those quite effectively.”

And Sybarite5 will continue to innovate with its upcoming projects, including Beatbox—a concerto for string quintet and orchestra that the group is slated to premiere in March 2015.

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