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String quintet turns rock into classical

Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” isn’t a normal chamber orchestra piece and neither is Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android,” but that’s the material string quintet Sybarite5 prefers to play.

This quintet, made up of two violins, a viola, a cello and a double bass, thinks rock musicians like the innovators of heavy metal, Led Zeppelin, and the experimental alternative band, Radiohead, are on the same playing field as, say, Beethoven or Mozart.

The appreciation of modern and classical music will make up Sybarite5’s concert when they visit Ohio University as part of the On the Edge portion of the Performing Arts Series, which brought in alternative classical groups such as Break of Reality and Project Trio earlier this year.

“We just have one rule in Sybarite5 and that is to perform the music that we love,” said Louis Levitt, double bassist of the quintet. “If that is Mozart or Beethoven, or Led Zeppelin or Radiohead then we play it. As long as we love the music, we want to play it.”

Sybarite5 had humble beginnings — Levitt was playing on a street corner in Aspen, Colorado during the Aspen Music Festival and School, an intensive eight-week festival for orchestral and classical musicians. That’s where Levitt met the rest of the quintet: Laura Metcalf, Sarah Whitney, Angela Pickett and Sami Merdinian.

Merdinian added that his interest in rock music stems from differences in how the songs are composed.

“I think the (rock) music is very complex, from a compositional standpoint and it’s very interestingly written,” Merdinian said. “I think that’s why the (Radiohead) arrangements work so well.”

After releasing two albums, one consisting entirely of Radiohead songs, the band is hoping to do more outreach, such as working with the Symphony Orchestra at OU and starting a weeklong music festival of their own, called Forward Music Festival in Sarasota, Florida.

“We wanted to start a music festival of our own … to find a new way to collaborate with musicians and the communities that we visit,” Levitt said. “Instead of just doing a concert here or there and outreach here or there, what we’re doing is going in for a longer period of time.”

Andrew Holzaepfel, senior associate director of programming said the outreach that Sybarite5 is doing is right in line with what was intended with the On The Edge series.

“The On the Edge Series has been a great success. These residencies are so much more than just the performance,” Holzaepfel said. “Each artist has worked with area children, (more than 2,000), university students, and School of Music majors. We are thrilled with the impact and will be expanding next year.”



If You Go

What: Sybarite5

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium

Admission: $5 student, $8 senior, $10 general  

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