Taking the Classic out of the Classical. The Warhol Dervish’s Unusual Collaborations


photo of Warhol Dervish collective Warhol Dervish collective

The Warhol Dervish collective is a sometimes trio, sometimes quartet, sometimes poly-tet of string players who take the classic out of classical music. Breaking boundaries leads the collective off the beaten path and into places that seemed possible only in the wild imaginings of a composer on LSD and absinthe. Director Pemi Paull spoke to us about the upcoming show with the international dream-team mix of Sam Shalabi, Lukas Ligeti, and Vergil Sharkya.

The Warhol Dervish Collective started around 2007 as the resident chamber ensemble at Zeke’s Gallery. “It was meant to be an underground chamber music collective and it’s kind of lived up to its potential in what we wanted to be and what it ended up being,” Paull says. “For this group, I wanted it to be experimental — how we interpret music, the type of music we play, how we play it, the kind of sounds we make, and the musicians we work with.” Over time, the collective has been as small as one and as large as six. For Saturday’s show, the quartet consists of John Corban and Teodora Dimova on violin, JC Lizotte on cello, and Paull on viola.

“The show is came about because I knew the name Sam Shalabi,” says Paull. “I knew some bands he played with and I used to hear him on [CBC’s] Wiretap all the time.” For those less familiar with Shalabi, Paull explains, “He’s an Egyptian sort of psychedelic Arabic-rock oud player.” Initially, Paull wanted to collaborate with Wiretap’s host, Jonathan Goldstein, but instead, ended up contacting his friend, percussionist Lukas Ligeti.

Photo of Sam Shalabi

Sam Shalabi. Photo Sean O’Hara

The name Ligeti may sound familiar; he’s the son of Hungarian composer, György Ligeti, that guy who composed tunes for one of those Kubrick flicks you might have seen: 2001. A Space Odyssey. “People look back on him as the greatest composer of the 20th century,” says Paull. “He’s probably of importance to composition what Dali is to art.” Ligeti’s son has an impressive career of his own as an improvisational percussionist who fuses West African melodies and deep electronica. “He plays with a group from Africa. It’s a combination of afro-pop music and contemporary improvisation. That’s pretty cool,” says Paull.

Lukas Legeti

Lukas Ligeti. Photo Maarit Kytoharju

Ligeti in turn encouraged Paull to get in touch with electronic music manipulator, Vergil Sharkya. Realization struck: “Let’s get us all together and do something. We’ll take a week figuring out what that something is.”


That something turns out to be Saturday’s performance, a show of semi-noted and semi-improvised music written by Shalabi, a string quartet by Ligeti, and another string quartet written by Sharkya that will be miked and manipulated from a board.

“I don’t know how these things come to be,” Paull muses. “A lot of things come together organically. No one thinks up a show like this. I like that process of not knowing what I’m doing all the time. Usually if you just kind of keep saying yes, good things come out of it all.”

While bands regularly get together and free-form jam, classical musicians generally don’t. Doing so means breaking out of years of conservatory training that for most began at a young age and changing one’s processes. “Training as a classical musician is like ballet dancing — it’s that kind of disciplined training,” says Paull. “It’s a lifetime struggle to get the conservatory smell out of you as a classical musician. It’s always there, so it’s great to work with people who are outside of that.”

The Warhol Dervish Collective, Lucas Ligeti, Sam Shalabi, and Vergi Sharkya play at Sala Rossa on Dec 21. 8 p.m. $10-12

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