By Matt Harris
Composers like Bach and Scarlatti may have died over 200 years ago, but their unique Baroque music lives on today. You may expect to find their work immortalized within a few albums recorded by some random orchestra in an east European village for the collections of eccentric music lovers. But their music also lives on today in some fairly unusual places.
Enter Sérgio and Odair Assad, a Brazilian guitar duo who perform, among other things, pieces from Bach and Scarlatti on guitar. To understand why and how, we need to rewind the tape back a few decades. The brothers Assad were born into a musical family rooted in the tradition of playing Chorinho-the traditional style of Brazilian folk music. Their father was a musician who played the mandolin in the Chorinho style. Later, the brothers would heed the clarion call of music and accompany their father’s mandolin playing along with the guitars.
“Our father [was] playing this type of music and the guitars were at home, so it was an easy step,” reflects older brother Sérgio Assad on the very beginning of his musical career.
After playing the guitar for some time since beginning at twelve and eight, respectively, Sérgio and Odair Assad began to get serious about their craft then. Heavily influenced not only by Chorinho music, but also by classical music from the Baroque era. The brothers went and studied for seven years under classical guitarist and lutenist Monica Távora, who studied under the famous Andrés Segovia. They burst onto the international scene in 1979, when they won a major prize at the Young Artists Competition in Bratislava and Slovakia. Since then, they’ve toured extensively in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Fast forward to 1998, Yo-Yo Ma just won a Grammy for his CD Obrigado Brazil which featured, among others, the brothers Assad. In 2002, the brothers won a Latin Grammy for their CD Sérgio and Odair Assad Play Piazolla. Along with Piazolla’s music, the brothers arrange their concerts so that the overall experience transcends eras of music and cultures.
Their repertoire spans numerous eras and cultures in classical music. It’s not uncommon for them to play guitar transcriptions of Bach’s piano pieces nor are they unfamiliar with the works of artists like Gershwin and Milhaud. Sérgio Assad has done numerous arrangements, transcriptions and written numerous original compositions for the duo to play.
An evening spent listening to the Assads promises to feature both established pieces and more contemporary guitar music. The appearance at the Rosza Centre will be no exception, featuring pieces by Scarlotti, Rodrigo, Brouwer and ending the show with Sérgio Assad’s own “Suite Brasiliera.”
The music of the brothers itself can be described as “unified.” The brothers have played together for so long they’ve forged a bond in the spirit of the music they play.
“After so many years we developed one way of thinking of music, one way of phrasing [music], we’ve sort of become one mind,” said Sérgio Assad.
Bach may be lying in his coffin below the Leipzig soil, but chances are he isn’t rolling in his grave, especially with the Assad brothers rejuvenating his music. Adapting it for the guitar and pairing it with more contemporary classical music, they bring Baroque to a world of today.