The Brazilian-born brothers SÉRGIO AND ODAIR ASSAD are today’s preeminent guitar duo. Their exceptional artistry and uncanny ensemble playing are the result of the unique closeness of their musical upbringing. In addition to setting new performance standards, the Assads have also played a major role in reviving contemporary music for guitar duo. Their virtuosity has inspired a wide range of composers to write works for them: Astor Piazzolla, Terry Riley, Radamés Gnatalli, Marlos Nobre, Nikita Koshin, Roland Dyens, Dusan Bogdanovic, Jorge Morel, Edino Kreiger, and Francisco Mignone. They have also been sought after as collaborators by such artists as Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Dawn Upshaw.
The Assads began playing the guitar together at an early age and went on to study for seven years with classical guitarist and lutenist Monina Távora, a disciple of Andrés Segovia. Their international career began with a major prize at the 1979 young artists competition in Bratislava. Now based in Brussels and in Chicago (where Sérgio teaches at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts), they continue to perform regularly in Europe and Japan as well as in Brazil.
Their repertoire, in addition to the pieces composed for them, includes original music by Sérgio Assad; transcriptions of the great Baroque keyboard literature of Bach, Couperin, Rameau, and Scarlatti; and adaptations of works by such diverse figures as Gershwin, Ginastera, and Milhaud. Their programs are always a compelling blend of styles, periods, and cultures.
The Assads have also recorded widely, primarily for the Nonesuch and GHA labels. In 2001 Nonesuch released Sérgio and Odair Assad Play Piazzolla, which won a Latin Grammy in September 2002. Other recent duo CDs include an album of Baroque works and Saga dos Migrantes for Nonesuch. They have recorded Piazzolla discs with Gidon Kremer (Nonesuch) and Yo-Yo Ma (Sony Classical), the latter a Grammy winner in 1998.
A Nonesuch collaboration with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in 2000 featured a collection of pieces based on traditional and Gypsy folk tunes from around the world. Since that recording the Assads and Salerno-Sonnenberg have made three highly successful tours of the United States, displaying unique chemistry, amusing interplay, and stunning virtuosity. In January 2003 the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Music Director Andreas Delfs premiered a triple concerto written by Sérgio for the trio. The Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz performed it in July. Other highlights of 2002-03 included an 18-city tour as soloists with the Orquestra de São Paolo.
The Assad Brothers have again collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma on his latest recording, Obrigado Brazil, a CD that features many of the most revered artists from Brazil. Sérgio arranged several of the works on the disc, which captured a Grammy in 2004. During the 2003/04 season, the Assads performed with Ma at several summer festivals in the United States, followed by performances in Europe and Japan. In September 2003 they appeared along with Yo-Yo Ma and other collaborative artists from the Obrigado Brazil recording to participate in the opening of Carnegie’s Zankel Hall.
The summer of 2004 included a very special tour for the Assads involving three generations of the Assad family. The family presented Brazilian folk music, known as “Chorinho,” featuring Jorge Assad, the father, on the mandolin and the voice of mother Angelina Assad; sister Badi brought her unique vocal style and extraordinary guitar ability, and Sérgio and Odair’s children Clarice, Carolina, and Rodrigo finished the picture on piano, guitar, and vocals. GHA records will release a DVD documentary a featuring one of the family’s concerts in Brazil.
During the 2005/06 season, the brothers will tour with acclaimed clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, and again with violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. An upcoming tour with two members of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet will soon be announced.
Photo Credit: Henry Fair