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Tasty Mix From Quarteto Vivace Brasil

Old First Concerts

Feb. 4-7

Flautist Tadeu Coelho is finding, on his group’s first tour of the U.S., that American musical palates are pleased by a healthy mix of genres. He believes that his fellow Brazilians are endemically suited to serving up eclecticism.

“It has to do with our heritage,” Coelho points out. “We are a very mixed population, from African, European, Japanese, and native Indian. We are very much like our national dish, feijoada, where you put a little bit of everything in it and make this very wonderful stew.”

The ingredients on the Quarteto Vivace Brasil’s at San Francisco’s Old First Church (Feb. 5) and at Antioch's El Campanil Theatre (Jan. 22) range from Baroque to French Romantic; classical nationalistic numbers from Europe and Latin and North America; and folk-based popular music from their native Brazil, particularly in the sentimental genre called choro (pronounced shaw-ru, from the Portuguese word for cry). All this is presented in arrangements for a chamber group of unusual instrumentation: flute (Coelho), two guitars (Edson Lopes and Roberto Colchiesqui), and percussion (Rodrigo Marinonio).

The group began in Tatuí (known as Brazil’s “Music City”) in the state of São Paulo, as a flute-and-guitar duo. By 2008, a second guitar was added to share melodic duties and provide the option of a bass line. Finally, Marinonio supplied the spicy flavors of snares and ethnic percussion (pandeiro tambourine, the boxlike drum called a cajon, shakers, and wood block). All members of the Quarteto attended the famed Tatuí Conservatory, where they studied classical repertoire. But Coelho points out that late at night, after school, the simpler sounds shaw-ru were essential to their lifestyle as young men.

“We’d go and play serenades [of choro] in front of the homes of these beautiful girls, in the hopes that the families would then invite us to come and have some food, and we’d play some more. Then we’d say good-bye, and go to another home with another beautiful girl, and sing and play.”

Decades later, their performance enhanced by further training and work in a variety of ensembles, the members of the Quarteto have made a mission of “bringing choro to a much more sophisticated level ... that the normal choro musician cannot accomplish.” But they’re also drawing on and reimagining pieces from their classical repertoire. Coelho cites an example from his nation’s preeminent classical composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, where he’s substituted his flute for the soprano vocal in the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5: “With the range of my vibrato, I can be expressive with sounds that perhaps a vocalist has not thought about, but fit very well inside the music. ... And you plug in two guitars and give one of them the weight of the bass,” missing from the composer’s original ensemble of cellos.

Now the designated professor of flute at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Coelho gets to showcase his virtuosity in the Quarteto’s setting of the “Aviary” section of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals. The French composer, he says, “wrote at a speed that’s supposed to be 168 [beats per minute], but for double-tonguing, I have proved to be very blessed, because I can tongue up to 200.” Lopes and Cochiequi are similarly agile on their instruments, and their trading-off of lead roles and harmonizing with Coelho are elements of the Quarteto’s delightful signature sound.

The current U.S. tour is “instrumental for the survival and development of our group,” Coelho points out, as is their securing Lisa Sapinkopf Artists of Emeryville as their North American manager. They'll also tour Europe and Asia and arrange for global release of their Brazilian CD. “To make a living in Brazil as a classical musician is extremely difficult,” says Coelho. “Although we come from a very rich musical tradition, the general population and the government do not support us. It’s very difficult to be a prophet in your own land.”

Jeff Kaliss has written about opera and other classical forms for the Marin Independent-Journal and The Oakland Tribune. He is based in San Francisco, and also covers jazz, world music, country, rock, film, theater, and other entertainment. The second edition of his authorized biography of Sly & the Family Stone was published by Backbeat Books.