From the Summer 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY BLAIR JACKSON
Below are eight pieces by Sérgio Assad that give some sense of the range of his compositions, from angular, dissonant flights to searing, deeply felt melodies, unusual harmonies, interesting textural juxtapositions, and dazzling virtuoso passages. In some cases, we’ve included some remarks from the original CG reviews of the pieces, and from current remarks by CG writers and others.
1. Três Cenas Brasileiras (1984), played by Kupinski Guitar Duo The “Three Brazilian Scenes” was the first of his original pieces to be played in Brazil by the Assad Duo. This exciting and virtuosic work, writes João Paulo Figueirôa Da Cruz in his 2008 annotated bibliography of Assad’s work, “requires a great amount of energy, synchronism between both guitars, and great lyricism. Assad states that when these pieces were conceived, he was very influenced by a repertoire of jazz and rock music that he used to listen to.”
2. Aquarelle (1986), Gérard Abiton
This three-movement work, which was a compulsory piece in the 2002 GFA, is still perhaps his most famous work. “His wife at that time liked to paint aquarelles, drawings utilizing transparent watercolors and blended hues, and the spread of the colors on the canvas fascinated him. Following the same idea, he started the guitar solo with a three-note motif…suggesting that the notes continue to ring one over the other as they spread throughout the score using augmentations and fragmentations.” —Eduardo Minozzi Costa, U. of Arizona dissertation, 2012. CG writer Chris Dumigan lauds its “Debussyan whole tones and very French-sounding harmonies in many places.” The middle movement, “Valseana,” is often performed alone.
3. FantasiaCarioca (1994), Dimitris Kotronakis
Written the year Assad’s first wife died, this is a “virtuosic ‘showpiece’ split into several segments of varying moods…pyrotechnic arpeggios, exciting rhythmic sections, abrupt mood swings from joyous to melancholic…” —Steve Marsh 11/05
4. Farewell (1994), Ana Vidovic The best known of 22 short, diverse pieces Assad wrote—mostly for two guitars—called Suite ‘Summer Garden’ for the the Japanese film Natsu No Iwa. Steve Marsh calls it “an exquisite composition… I always find the melody line, albeit so simple, very moving—whether the solo version or the duet one.”
5. Three Greek Letters (2000), Antigoni Goni According to Assad, the three movements—“Pi,” “Psi,” and “Sigma”—“are not based in Greek traditional music [but] they are my personal homage to the great Greek culture and civilization.” Each of the three has its own dominant mood or feeling, from the flowing consonance of “Pi” to the darker and more abstract “Sigma.”
6. Seis Brevidades (2009), Marc Teicholz Assad said, “The Seis Brevidades were written partially in Chicago and partially in Paris during 2008 and dedicated to my dear brother, Odair Assad. They were not conceived with related musical material, each being very different in character and based in different sources of Latin American music. The whole set is unified as they reflect very loose and brief moments of a journey through a single day. Although they were not written on the same day they were inspired during or by specific times of the day.”
7. Sandy’S Portrait (2012), David Russell Beautiful three-movement work in memory of Sandy Bolton, a guitar-advocate associated with the University of Arizona, premiered by David Russell. The concluding “Toccata” movement is one of Assad’s most-played pieces.
8. Suite Brasileira No.3 (2014), Thomas Viloteau
Commissioned by and dedicated to Thomas Viloteau, this wonderfully modern and energetic five-part work, Assad says, “blends forms of cultural expression [dance, folkloric song, martial arts rhythms] of a specific region of Brazil—the Northeast, involving part of the state of Bahia, the great state of Pernambuco, and some of Alagoas and Rio Grande do Norte.”