The 2021 Miami International GuitART Festival presents Aliéksey Vianna & friends (Adam Taubitz and Ola Sendecki, violins; Elia Portabales, viola; Josep-Oriol Miró, cello), performing a program of music scored originally for guitar and string quartet by two of the best guitarist-composers of the 20th and 21st centuries, the great Brazilian virtuoso Sergio Assad and the legendary American jazz guitarist and pianist Ralph Towner.
It is not surprising that both of these composers have written major works for this specific instrumentation. However, perhaps by coincidence, the pieces they wrote turned out to have something else in common: the fact that they evolve around ethnic themes that, together, suggest an idea of migrations.
Born to a family of middle-eastern immigrants in a small town of southeastern Brazil, in his early teens Sergio Assad moved to Rio de Janeiro. There, like many other people from all over the country, his family went to search for better opportunities of education and work. In the center of Rio, there is an old train station called Central do Brasil. This is a place where people from many different Brazilian cultures meet. As such it became the inspiration for the large one-movement work that was titled after it. In this piece one hears a large variety of Brazilian rhythms, from the southern Chamame to the northeastern Baião, Frevo and Bumba meu Boi.
Brought up by his father in the tradition of Brazilian Choro music, Sergio Assad was later educated as a classical guitarist. Together with his younger brother he formed a world-renowned duo that plays many different styles of music and performs all over the world. As an adult, Sergio also lived in France but, since more than 20 years, he finally settled with his family in Chicago. His international lifestyle, as well as a wealth of musical experiences drawn from his chamber music career, is reflected in his brilliant Five World Dances.
Known mostly for his work as a solo recording artist of the German label ECM, as well as for his 50-year collaboration with the jazz and world-music group Oregon, Ralph Towner is an amazingly prolific composer and improviser. His compositions range from music for solo guitar or piano to full orchestral works, including movie and theater scores, themes for improvisation in jazz settings, big band, electronic synthesizers etc.
Not unlike Sergio Assad’s, Towner’s is a very international life. He was born in a small town of Washington State, studied in Vienna, then lived for many years in New York City, and eventually settled in Rome. In general, his music draws as much from jazz as from classical music and ethnic roots (Brazil, India and other places).
The two pieces in this program were written for a project with the Rosamunde quartet, which ended up never coming to conclusion. Migration is original for guitar and string quartet that was first recorded by Aliéksey Vianna and the Harmony Quartet in their CD Ritmos e Danças (2009). Waterwheel is a new arrangement of an older composition that Towner had recorded with two other instrumentations: first the group Oregon and then a trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette.