Classical music typically isn’t known for its ability to adapt. It’s common for symphony concerts to be programmed with music that’s nearly 200-hundred-years-old, sometimes even older.
Violinist Sami Merdinian, along with the chamber group SYBARITE5, hopes to breathe some new air into the classical repertoire.
The group is giving the Perfroming Arts Live of Iredell’s first concert of 2019, and the evening promises a combination of innovative performances matched with high caliber musical talent.
Merdinian himself is no stranger to the common, grandiose repertoire in classical music. Born in Argentina, Merdinian immigrated to the United States in 1998 and graduated from The Juilliard School in 2004. He went on to earn his masters degree and an artist diploma from Yale University. He obtained his U.S citizenship in September 2018.
Merdinian has stayed busy.
He has performed with ensembles in South Korea, Italy and Aspen, Colorado, according to his biography. He was also picked as the Argentinean Press’s Outstanding Artist of the Year, and won multiple artist competitions.
Merdinian manages to balance his solo career with the chamber group, which is a quintet dedicated to exploring contemporary music in and outside of the classical genre. He said this partially stemmed from the group’s instrumentation.
“We kind of had no choice because there isn’t a great deal of chamber music written for bass and string quartets,” he said.
He also mentioned he’s not fond of much of the repertoire already written for his ensemble, and would rather explore new territory.
“One of our missions is to expand the repertoire for string quintets with bass,” Merdinian said. “Giving voice to all these awesome, new composers is very exciting for us. The idea of expanding techniques and expanding sound worlds, we are fascinated by the creativity of some of these young composers and we just love performing (their work).”
That was the focus of their last album, “Outliers.” It focused on showcasing works by upcoming composers that specifically wrote music for the group. It was released in January 2018 and reached No. 1 on the classical Billboard Charts.
Even though the group has roots dating back to 1997, the current lineup formed in 2009, according to Merdinian. He said was the last member to join, but everyone met while attending the Aspen Music Festival in Aspen, Colorado.
The group apparently formed while taking up on old festival tradition; students playing music and asking for money along street corners in Aspen. Merdinian said that the group grew popular rather quickly.
Although each member has orchestral experience, Merdinian remarked that playing in a small group comes with more artistic freedom. He said that not having a conductor directing the ensemble allows everyone to have an individual voice.
“In chamber in music, we’re all equal: it’s a democracy,” Merdinian said. “We try everyone’s ideas and it allows us to be more creative, more curious (and) use our imagination in a much deeper way than an orchestral musician.”
One thing that comes off as obvious about the group is their love for English indie band Radiohead. Their album “Everything in its Right Place” consists of 10 Radiohead songs arranged for a string quintet. Merdinian said that everyone in the ensemble has been a Radiohead fan since their teenage years, and that the band’s music isn’t that dissimilar from classical music works.
“There’s like a lot of textures in the music, there’s inner complexity in the rhythms,” he said. “If you didn’t tell a classical listener that you’re playing Radiohead, it could pass as a contemporary composer, because (of) the ostinatos, the layers (and) the complexity. I think it’s one of those groups that the music translates very nicely to string instruments.”
Even though he has the musical skills and keeps a presence on the music circuit, Merdinian said that the group offers a nice alternative to that of lonely career solo artist.
“It’s like a family,” he said. “It’s like we continuously try to understand what the other person is thinking. Working together in that process is also a way of understanding each other.”
And Merdinian commented that other members of the group routinely spark his own creativity.
“I think the reason why we have stayed together for 10 years is because those moments happen regularly,” he said. “In every concert, there is a moment where we kind of look around and smile because something was spontaneous ... the magic happens on stage and that’s when everyone is giving everything they have and putting it out there. We definitely get energy, inspiration and respect (from) everyone on stage for the artistry they bring to the ensemble.”
SYBARITE5 will be performing Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Mac Gray Auditorium at Statesville High School. Merdinian will be joined by Sarah Whitney, violin; Angela Pickett, viola, Louis Levitt, bass and Laura Metcalf, cello.
Ticket information can be found at palofiredell.com/artist.php?id=129&name=SYBARITE5 .