It was a cold night in Manhattan, but the audience filling Zankel Hall was warmed enough to cheerfully welcome Sybarite5 in their Carnegie Hall debut. And for the next two hours, people went from warm to hot while this chamber quintet of young, talented, and passionate musicians was unfolding a cascade of unchained melodies. We have watched and listened to a good share of chamber groups over the years, but nothing was close to the originality and versatility of this one. This writer is neither a musician nor a musical critic, thus these lines are not intended to be a specialist's appreciation of what really transpired on the night of November 13, 2012.
The seamless ensemble of Sybarite5 (sybarite5.org) is more than the sum of its parts. But its parts also deserve to be mentioned: Sami Merdinian (violin), Sarah Whitney (violin), Angela Pickett (viola), Laura Metcalf (cello), and Louis Levitt (bass). They bring together the ageless attraction of string instruments and the sound and fury of contemporary life. Their interaction with the public reaches farther than the sheer interpretation of music to become a joint enterprise. They performed several world premieres, several other works especially commissioned for them (we did not know the composers, but we were sincerely impressed by the musical fabric of most of those compositions and the superb performance of all of them), but they also found room to include two stupendous works by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla (“Milonga del angel” and “Muerte del angel”) and two beautifully moving folk pieces by Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet (“Kele kele” and “Dance of Vagharshapat”). By listening to Komitas’ pieces, you would not say that these were the same people who also performed complicated pieces of contemporary music. And yet they were. The description of The Sarasota Herald Tribune quoted in the program was not over the top: “Their rock star status in the classical crossover world is well deserved. Their classically honed technique mixed with grit and all out passionate attack transfixes the audience . . .” Neither the standing ovation of the public was perfunctory; it was the well-deserved recognition of an experience out of the ordinary.