Boundary-stretching Sybarite5 headlines chamber music festival

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According to Merriam-Webster ...

A Sybarite was a resident of the ancient Greek city in southern Italy on the Gulf of Tarentum, founded circa 720 B.C. by Achaeans, who was known for wealth and luxury.

Today, sybarite has come to mean a voluptuary or sensualist.

WALLA WALLA — Sybarite5: A cello, a viola, two violins, a bass and “Everything In Its Right Place.”

That last reference, however, is not about the setup of a classical chamber quintet on stage, but rather an actual song by Radiohead that will most likely be performed at this week’s Walla Walla Winter Chamber Music Festival.

“Expect some Radiohead. Expect some Led Zeppelin. And expect some Bach and Mozart,” festival artistic director Timothy Christie said.

Unlike the summer Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival, the winter version was designed to center around a well-known chamber group.

Last winter it was PROJECT Trio, a small chamber music group that is stretching the boundaries of classical music.

Once again, Christie has brought to Walla Walla another ensemble whose musicians have made a name for themselves by bowing, strumming, plucking and even slapping their instruments to rock, jazz, blues and more.

But what Sybarite5 is getting a lot for lately is their Radiohead.

“I think that it is particularly interesting that their career has tracked the way it has because they are an example of how classical music is kind of taking a new look at itself,” Christie said.

For Sybarite5, that new look includes a recently released CD of Radiohead songs, “Sybarite5, Everything In Its Right Place, Radiohead Remixed.”

There are sure to be some who will argue that rock and classical music have long been successfully merged for decades with groups such as the Moody Blues or Electric Light Orchestra or even The Beatles.

Yet Sybarite5 is anything but Top 40 with strings.

The quintet stays true to the sound of small classical ensembles, and yet manages to successfully rewrite and incorporate rock and other genres.

How successful are they?

Twice already the group has been awarded and featured at performances at Carnegie Hall in New York.

And a large part of their success comes from incorporating the largest of the stringed instruments.

“In many ways the bass is really a flexible instrument. Unfortunately, physically is not one of those ways — as I’ve learned flying the friendly skies ... But musically its very flexible. The bass is found in almost every genre of music...,” Sybarite5 bass player Louis Levitt said.

Even more, Levitt said the bass is the force that bridges the gap between other styles like rock, blues and jazz.

But just adding a bass to a quartet won’t guarantee that every jazz or rock tune will make the Sybarite5 cut, as many have not.

“There are too many too name. But we do read a lot of music in order to find just the right pieces for our group.

“For every one piece we play, we probably read 10 that just don’t fit quite right,” Levitt said.

What will Sybarite5 try in the future?

“There is a piece called ‘Achilles Last Stand’ by Led Zeppelin that I’d love to play one day. I think I’d also be into dabbling in some Aphex Twin, Beethoven, and Glen Hansard sometime soon,” Levitt said.

One element missing from Sybarite5 and the entire Walla Walla Chamber Music Festival is staunch conformity dressed in black and white.

“The crusty old gentleman playing music that will never seem to end, we don’t have any of those at our show,” Christie said, adding that past summer festivals have included works by Jimi Hendrix or Lady Gaga.

And whether Bach or Jimi, “there is a lot of interaction.”

Sybarite is no different. Even more, there is a pleasant edginess to their performances.

“We constantly strive to break down the boundaries in the world of classical music, and the boundaries between the audience and the stage.

“We don’t wear formal gowns and tuxedos, we will announce all of our program from the stage, and we encourage people to feel free to clap at any time they feel like it,” Levitt said.

To learn more and hear for yourself at this year’s Walla Walla Winter Chamber Music Festival, go online to wwcmf.org.

Festival events start today, run through Sunday and many are free.

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