5 feb 2013

Sergio Assad Interview

Assad brothers: Talent, soul and magic (I)
Fernando Bartolomé Zofío for MGE. Guitar Festival. Córdoba. Julio 2012

I had the privilege to converse with Sergio Assad, one of the members of Assad duo, probably the most important duo in guitar history, about several interesting subjects relate to interpretation, arrangements, ensembles, repertoire or education for MGE. Since 1979 they are showing the world all they are capable of and making the people enjoy with the music. One of the reasons I devoted my life to music, in this case classical music, was the listening to their interpretation of the Piazzolla’s Tango suite.
Many of the most outstanding composers have written music for them, among others Dyens, Piazzolla, Koshkin, Nobre, Gnatalli, Krieger or Morel. Not only they enable us to have a wider repertoire for guitar by inspiring a lot of composers but they have made amazing arrangements of music that have been established like standards in the guitar duo repertoire.
Your career as musicians is full of works originally created for your duo, as well as arrangements of other music and collaborations with all types of musicians and groups. How do you proceed for the arrangements process? Is there a specific way for you to make them?
It has changed through time. In a first phase, in the 70’s and 80’s I adapted a lot of harpsichord and piano music for the two guitars. In a second phase, in the 90’s I started working on larger arrangements comprising more instruments. In my third phase now I’m back in arranging music for just two guitars but trying to be very creative around them. I treat a piece I want to arrange like if it was my own piece. Therefore I might change the harmony, the meter and draw ideas from the original material and reworking it like if I was composing the piece from scratch.


When we talk about arranging music, from your point of view, is it to adjust the music to the instrument or is there another kind of work that include remaking the music?
To arrange is the best ticket to get into composition. As an arranger your job is to start creating an intro to the piece you want to arrange and later through the arrangement you have to be able to develop ideas like in a regular composition. If you can make it sound fresh you could say that it is sort of remaking the music.
In the usual conservatory plans still prevails the individual technique and soloist figure as the main objective to be achieved over the chamber music and guitar ensembles that hold in secondary position. What do you think about that?
I know that this is a major problem once there is no space in the market for all the potential good soloists of today. Most of guitar students want to step on stage on their own and I think they miss the opportunity, while they are in the conservatories, to work with other musicians handling different instruments. If you get seriously enough about chamber music at the right time you might have a better chance of doing interesting stuff later with other musicians. I see this happening all the time within the jazz or world music scene and should be the same in the classical guitar world.

What value do you think you can get by playing in groups since the beginning of a learning process for the student’s musical and human training?
You can learn lots of things on your own but being all the time confined limits your ability to deal with so many other aspects of music. Guitarists tend to create ensemble of guitars, which is ok but is not ideal. The best is to play in small chamber settings where you really have to develop your reading skills, improve your dynamics, get a better sense of other instrumentalists input into music. Understand clearly the difference of plucked, bowed and wind instruments. If you are used to phrase with your guitar you can be quite surprised with the same phrase played by any other instrument specially when the sustain of notes can be longer. The only barrier here is actually the small repertoire for multi instruments ensembles comprising the guitar. It should be a general effort to create or try to create more repertoires.


In your case, both of you have studied music since childhood and the fact of being brothers and being together for so long turns musical understanding into a natural thing for you. For musicians and students who only know the others for the rehearsal time, what advice could you give them to improve their interpretation of the music and their personal understanding? Is it only about playing more time or is it about making agreements about the music, the entries, or the personal musical points of view?
Music can completely be explained by physical means. If you rehearse the right change of dynamics, rubato and articulation it is possible to play anything from a merely physical perspective. I do believe though that there is more than that in music. Music can express time periods and different cultures very well. One will be better off as a musician by diving deeper into social knowledge connected with different time periods and cultures. To play French baroque music for instance it really helps to understand how the French court behaved back then; their habits, their feasts, their gestures and so on.  Another example is the music of Astor Piazzolla, which is imbedded, in such a strong tradition as the tango. I’ve seen many people trying to play Piazzola without making any connection with the Argentinean tango. It helps to have heard Carlos Gardel or Anibal Troilo among others and to have watched the dance as well.

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