September 17, 2012

San Francisco Hosts Great Guitarists

By Scott Cmiel

Today’s best classical guitar recitals feature brilliant playing, plus innovative repertoire that showcases the best contemporary composers, world music, and nowadays even unusual instruments. Here are my suggestions for the fall season.


Odair Assad, Omni Foundation / San Francisco Performances

Odair and Sergio AssadSergio and Odair Assad have been the preeminent classical guitar duo of the last 40 years, having set the standard for technical excellence, sensitive musicianship, and innovative repertoire choices. Their performances are all the more sought after in recent years as they have become more selective about their engagements and less-easily seen. Sergio has used the time to compose a series of brilliant scores and to become the guitar world’s most sought-after composer. Odair, meanwhile, has enthralled audiences with a series of solo performances and recordings that have received rave reviews.

“I never thought about playing solo, because I’ve had such a good connection with my brother,” Odair says. “But I was pushed by composer Leo Brouwer, who wrote a sonata for me. I wanted to record it, which meant assembling a full CD of solo material — and everything progressed from there.” Brouwer’s sonata is a major work that portrays Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and arid highlands, as well as its vibrant musical culture in the composer’s well-known blend of idiomatic modernism and hyperromanticism. The program will also include works dedicated to Odair written by Sergio Assad and Kevin Callahan, as well as works by Latin American composers Villa-Lobos, Garoto, Piazzolla, and Gismonti.

Odair Assad, Oct. 5, 8 p.m., San Francisco Conservatory of Music, $30-$45, (415) 392-2545.

Pacific Guitar Ensemble/ Omni Foundation

Pacific Guitar EnsembleDavid Tanenbaum and Peppino D’Agostino have put together the most innovative guitar ensemble ever, with eight outstanding performers on classical and steel-string guitars, electric basses, and 17th-century theorbos. They play music written by composers like Brazilian guitar legend Sergio Assad, noted minimalist Belinda Reynolds, and D’Agostino, the group’s own brilliant steel-string stylist, as well as fresh arrangements of great composers from Bach to Brahms, Dowland to Rossini. Guitarists like nothing better than to get together to play for and with each other, learning and copying, sharing and competing. The Pacific Guitar Ensemble is a group dedicated to keeping this dynamic process alive, and it invites audiences to come along for the ride.

The Pacific Guitar Ensemble, Oct. 27, 8 p.m., Green Room at the War Memorial Performing Arts Center, San Francisco, $34, (415) 242-4500.

Brasil Guitar Duo, Omni Foundation

Brasil Guitar DuoI missed the Brasil Duo’s 2010 San Francisco recital and won’t make that mistake again. The buzz afterward was amazing for the winners of the 2006 Concert Artists Guild International Competition. The Duo is equally at home on a classical or a world music series, and its innovative programming features a seamless blend of traditional and Brazilian works. Here is a YouTube video of them playing Ástor Piazzolla’s Zita.

The Brasil Guitar Duo, Nov. 17, 8 p.m., Green Room at the War Memorial Performing Arts Center, San Francisco, $34, (415) 242-4500.

Shin-Ichi Fukuda, Omni Foundation / San Francisco Performances

The Japanese guitarist Shin-Ichi Fukuda possesses an astonishingly large repertoire, ranging from the Renaissance to the present day. He is especially known for his probing exploration of the 19th-century guitar repertoire, employing instruments created at the time the music was composed, as well as for performing modern classical music and even music in a jazz-fusion idiom.

Shin-Ichi Fukuda, Dec. 8, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, $30-$45, (415) 392-2545.

Scott Cmiel is Chair of the guitar and musicianship departments at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music Preparatory Division and Director of the guitar program at San Francisco School of the Arts.