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Sybarite5 charms with genre-hopping music

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In Greek mythology, the Sybarites charmed their enemies by playing music.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, the Sybarite5 will bring its amalgam of classical-meets-folk-meets-rock to the Historic Old San Ysidro Church in Corrales.

The string quintet formed at the Aspen (Colo.) Music Festival nine years ago. Its last album, “Outliers,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard classical music charts.

“We’re the only ensemble of its kind,” founding double bass player Louis Levitt said in a phone interview from a stop in Snowmass, Colo.

The group’s eclectic repertoire ranges from Bowie to Radiohead to Armenian folk tunes plus Dvorák and Piazzolla. It has performed for the Dalai Lama, at the Library of Congress and New York’s Museum of Sex, as well as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

Levitt’s bass marks the quintet unique among chamber music groups. The lack of repertoire becomes an opportunity to commission new works from composers such as violist Jessica Meyer.

“I believe the boundaries of different kinds of music are changing or blurring,” Levitt said. “I would say we’re genre-hopping.”

The Sybarites don’t decide on a program until shortly before taking the stage. They post programs with the pieces and their composers online.

“It leads to a really dynamic performance,” Levitt said. “We want people to be listening and enjoying the music and not reading a dissertation on Dvorák.”

Levitt grew up in Sarasota, Fla.

“I grew up with music in the schools,” he said. “You could choose to play violin, cello or bass. It didn’t have a football team, but it had an orchestra.”

Levitt had played guitar as a boy, so he decided on the bass.

“They explained the different strings,” he said. “The bass had the same four strings as the bottom strings on the guitar, so I thought it would be easy. Of course, it wasn’t.”

He went on to attend the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Dubbed the “Millennial Kronos,” the quintet members met and formed when they were still students. A year later, organizers from the Aspen Music Festival called Levitt, asking the group to substitute.

“I thought it was a crank call,” he said. “I hung up. They called back two seconds later and said, ‘Please don’t hang up’.”

The Sybarites plan to release a new album, “Live From New York: The Sybarite5,” this spring.

Local fans may remember the group from performances at Chatter.

New Mexico “is one of our favorite places to come,” Levitt said. “I hope when we get to New Mexico to say ‘Christmas’ in as many restaurants as possible.”

Sybarite5 is comprised of Sami Merdinian and Sarah Whitney, violins; Angela Pickett, viola; Laura Metcalf, cello; and Levitt on the bass.

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