Poster Sybarite5
Sybarite5 demonstrates its commitment to new music on its latest album, 'Collective Wisdom.'
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String ensemble Sybarite5 champions new music on its latest album, 'Collective Wisdom'

New Classical Tracks (extended interview) - Sybarite5
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New Classical Tracks - Sybarite5
New Classical Tracks - November 22, 2023

Sybarite5 – Collective Wisdom (Bright Shiny Things)

“Over the pandemic, some members of the ensemble changed,” says bassist Louis Levitt, a founding member of the string ensemble Sybarite5. “People moved to different places, decided to do different things, and we decided to take that as a moment to step back and kind of reevaluate the ensemble. And it turns out that having five string players — two violins, viola, cello and double bass — works out just fine. And we kind of rediscovered what a cool thing our ensemble was.

“In having the new members join, we've opened up some really interesting possibilities, pathways and gateways that just were not possible before. And I think that this album is a really good expression of that, because we're taking the group in different directions.”

That new recording, Collective Wisdom, reflects the group’s commitment to new music. Levitt and two of the new members, violist Caeli Smith and cellist Laura Andrade, sat down to share their enthusiasm about their first recording together.

You have a commitment to new music. Why? And why did you choose Collective Wisdom for the title of this recording?

Levitt: “At the beginning, we realized that if we were going to have this career and decide to pursue this, we were going to need to work to expand the repertoire for a string quintet with double bass. And that meant we were going to be working with composers and commissioning new works.

“Regarding the name of the album, right after we won the Concert Artists Guild competition, there was a prize given to us and that was to commission a new work from a young emerging composer. We chose Michael Gilbertson, and the piece he wrote for us was called Collective Wisdom.”

The title track starts off with a snap pizzicati. Where does it go from there?

Smith: “It is so dang hard, but when it comes together, both for a listener and for a performer, it is really gratifying. It's sort of like these shocks of lightning that are coming from different corners of the sky, and it requires this incredible alertness and precision from all of us at all times, which is really fun actually, when we can pull it off.”

Andrade: “The process of putting that piece together is actually very gratifying because it's so rhythmically complex and we have to be super-laser-focused the whole time. That piece, in particular, is very much foundational to our virtuosity and our abilities as an ensemble.”

You lead off with an energetic piece from the Punch Brothers, so I'm guessing you're big Chris Thile fans?

Smith: “We are huge fans of Chris Thile and of the Punch Brothers. It is definitely one of our favorites to play. It sounds like something really dramatic happening in slow motion. We adore this track, and it's first on the album because it's one that we're the most proud of and excited about.”

The piece is called Movement and Location, and Thile says that it's about retired baseball player Greg Maddux. Is that something you knew when you first heard the piece?

Levitt: “When I first heard the song, I didn't think that's what it was about. And then I found out it's a song about baseball and perhaps a pitcher just trying to figure out the proper movement location for every one of their pitches. But you know what? That resonated with me because that's how I felt about every note that I played and articulated with the bow and just trying to get it to pop just right and be in time.”

There are three folk songs right in the middle of this recording that reflect the heritage of one of your violinists.

Levitt: ”Performing live on stage with someone from Armenian heritage is a really incredible experience because we're experiencing something really authentic. And I feel honored and privileged to be able to do that with Sami Merdinian on stage. The other thing is that, much like Béla Bartók, Komitas recorded these by writing them down, and in doing so he preserved history.

“And I feel really similar to that when we make an album or we're doing a world premiere. If we don't document it and record it and release it, it may never exist; no one else may hear it.”

Resources

Sybarite5 – Collective Wisdom (Amazon)

Sybarite5 – Collective Wisdom (Bright Shiny Things)

Sybarite5 (official site)

Louis Levitt (official site)

Caeli Smith (official site)

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