A colleague from the other coast is in town for meetings that are taking place on the West Side of Los Angeles. Said colleague, being a connoisseur of good music, decided to take in a concert at Disney Hall, got a pair of tickets to a classical duo guitar performance by Sérgio and Odair Assad, and invited me to join him. We thought to have dinner first, but I warned that rush-hour traffic was likely to make that impossible as his meetings ran until 5 pm — at that hour, the 20-minute drive from the ocean to downtown L.A. was likely to take over an hour… at best. So the plan was to meet at the box office at 7:30. At 7:15 my cell phone rang – traffic was crawling along the #10 Freeway and my friend was barely half way across town. At 7:50, just as I was surmising that we would miss the first half of the show, my intrepid colleague appeared; just after his call, the traffic magically began to move, and so we were able to settle in to our excellent seats just as the lights dimmed.
Brazilian born Sérgio and Odair Assad are brothers, and part of a multigenerational musical family that includes their mandolin-playing father, vocalist mother, sister who also sings and plays guitar, and the brothers’ two daughters. But tonight it’s just the two men, alone on an unadorned stage playing unamplified classical guitars, breathing as one, exhibiting a sympatico between them that belies not only their brotherhood but also the fact that they’ve been playing together for 40 years. The program opened with a piece by Isaac Albéniz that sounded oddly pianistic to me. I was not familiar with this composer, so later, in perusing the program notes by John Henken, when I read that Albéniz was a pianist and that his piano pieces have been transcribed and arranged for guitar, I was pleased that my ears had not deceived me.
The second piece was by Rodrigo, a three-movement composition titled Tonadilla that contains fragments reminiscent of his more famous composition Concierto de Aranjuez. Without comparing the scores, or at least hearing it again, I cannot say whether those fragments were deliberate auditory allusions to Concierto or simply harmonic and rhythmic snippets peculiar to Rodrigo’s sound and style. The program also included pieces by Sérgio, his daughter, Piazzolla, Bittencourt, Gismonti, Dyens, and Brouwer.
The house was not sold out, but the applause was thunderous leading to repeated curtain-calls, and I am happy to say that there were quite a few young people in attendance. The duo reappeared from the wings without their guitars the first two times, but finally gave in and remerged for an encore. Sérgio informed the audience that they grew up poor and had only one guitar, so they would now show us how they played in the beginning. He put down his guitar, stood behind Adair who was seated, and together they played a very intricate and lively piece, four hands, simultaneous, on one guitar. It was amazing! A bravissimo evening to be sure.