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A rare collaboration between NC State LIVE and Chamber Music Raleigh featured an even more unique ensemble: Sybarite5, a nationally-acclaimed string quintet with foci on eclectic repertoire, unconventional technique, and educational outreach. In addition to performing their program, titled "Outliers" to match their latest album, Sybarite5 spent the previous two days collaborating with students in discussion, lecture, and performance. An important part of Sybarite5's mission, and particularly this program, is to feature brand new works from cutting-edge composers, creating soundscapes that satisfy both chamber music fans and people who are new to chamber music.
"Outliers" was performed in a more contemporary concert style, with the musicians introducing each section from the stage, forgoing a more traditional printed program. This also highlighted the fact that many pieces have a connection to the musicians, whether through its composer or its origin. Sybarite5 has an entire album of Radiohead arrangements, so the concert began with "Weird Fishes," a rhythmically flowing piece with shards of melody spun among the five musicians. Here, and throughout the concert, divergent techniques abounded – spiccato (bouncing the bow on the strings) was used frequently, as well as simply drumming on the body of the instrument (most often employed by Laura Metcalf on the cello and bassist Louis Levitt). These highly percussive techniques showcased the versatility of both Sybarite5 and what a string quintet could accomplish in general.
Of course, not every piece was totally rhythmic in nature – "Yann's Flight." by Shawn Conley, introduced striking moments of homophony that was extraordinarily blended. A quintet arrangement of "Escualo," by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, who shares a country of origin with violinist Sami Merdinian, explored both rhythmic and lyrical sides of tango and waltz. This performance was especially fun to witness, as the five players really seemed to let loose and have fun here. An opposite, but no less captivating, experience was Michael Gilbertson's "Collective Wisdom," full of sporadic snap pizzicato phrases that required the five to breath together precisely in order to stay in unison.
Continuing the exploration of varied musical styles, "Meditation über den Choral St. Wenceslaus," by Josef Suk, was the most lyrically passionate music of the night, an excellent contrast to the music heard before. It was fascinating to witness the different types of musical expression that Sybarite5 engaged for each piece. After the tense, mesmerizing "My Desert, My Rose" by Aleksandra Vrebalov, "Iniche Cosebe" by Mike Block (performed as encore) was pure joy. It even featured the musicians singing the title words while they played! Though the piece is of African influence, violinist Sarah Whitney and violist Angela Pickett really shone, with their fiddle-like solos that resembled American folk music, bringing the colorful program full circle.