Comprised of Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Louis Levitt, bass, SYBARITE5 has taken audiences around the US by storm. From Radiohead to Mozart, this group of talented, diverse musicians has changed the perception of chamber music performance. SYBARITE5 has recently appeared at the Library of Congress, on the CBS Early show, for his Holiness the Dalai Lama, and numerous times at the Aspen Music Festival. In New York City they have performed at Lincoln Center, Time Warner Center, Galapagos Artspace, the Museum of Sex, Bohemian National Hall, Rockerfeller and maintain a residency at the cell. SYBARITE5’s latest CD “Disturb The Silence” made the Billboard Top 10, and the group is one of three winners of the Concert Artists Guild competition.
The Melody Book recently spoke with Louis Levitt of SYBARITE5:
Q: How did you come up with the name SYBARITE5? Is it an homage to Xian Hawkins (The Sybarite) in any way?
A: I wasn’t aware of Xian Hawkins. The name “Sybarite” comes from Greek mythology, from a town called Sybaris. Sybarites would charm their enemies by playing music.
Q: The SYBARITE5 musical style is diverse, ranging from Radiohead to Mozart. How do you choose the pieces you perform? Have you gotten any feedback from the bands you cover, such as Radiohead?
A: We have a pretty simple rule. We just play the music that we like to listen to and music that we want to play. That’s pretty much how we approach all our work, and we have to agree as a group on that. We haven’t gotten any feedback from Radiohead that I know of. I think it would be really cool if someone from Radiohead contacted us and say “Hey, we find this really interesting”, or “We really hate what you’re doing.” I think it would be very interesting to get that kind of feedback, but I don’t think that would really affect what we’re doing either way. Obviously it would be nice to know if there are bands that we are covering who enjoy our version of the songs they created, but I think that’s really icing on the cake. We love and respect their music so much that we, as classical musicians want to play it ourselves. It was something we wanted to explore, so we did.
Q: How do you compose the pieces in your repertoire? Since you are a very diverse group, how do you maintain the SYBARITE5 musical style without spreading too much and losing focus?
A: I’m not exactly sure if we actively try to do that. I guess the answer is that we don’t maintain a style. We just play what we really want to play, and the music that we’re really passionate about. A lot of classical musicians have to play required pieces; in an orchestra you don’t get a lot of say in what you have to play. Or if you play in a string quartet, you would be playing Bartok and Mozart, and pieces like that. We’re very lucky in that we don’t have to maintain a certain requirement. The horrible thing is, there isn’t a lot of music written for a string quintet, but the great thing is, there’s no music written for a string quintet! So we get to do whatever we want to do, and whatever music we feel compelled to play, we get to perform. And we’re not very shy about commissioning composers, or people to write music for us.
Q: Who are your favorite classical and contemporary musicians? Who inspires and influences you?
A: This may sound weird, but my influences are Bach, Mahler, Edgar Meyer, Radiohead, and Led Zeppelin. I was a teenager of the ’90s, so I’m sure there’s some grunge in there, and a predilection for Pearl Jam. These are all composers and bands that I enjoy listening to, they are all on my iPod.
Q: What advice do you have for young musicians today?
A: Don’t stop. Especially if you’re talking to classical musicians, you know, it’s very competitive. I went to a conservatory, and it’s very competitive and a very tough education to get. The people I see that are successful are the people that have the most amount of drive. You can be talented, and get very far, but the ones that really get the most out of life and their careers, and the most out of being a musician are the people that just work hard and keep going. No matter what happens, you can’t really be afraid to fail, because failure is a really important part of that. If you don’t fail you’re never going to realize what you need to do to be successful.