Brazilian-born brothers Sérgio and Odair Assad have set the benchmark for all other guitarists by creating a new standard of guitar innovation, ingenuity and expression. Their exceptional artistry and uncanny ensemble-playing come from a family rich in Brazilian musical tradition and studies under guitarist/lutenist Monina Távora (1921-2011), a disciple of Andrés Segovia. In addition to setting new performance standards, the Assads have played a major role in creating and introducing new music made for two guitars. Their virtuosity has inspired a wide range of composers to write for them including Astor Piazzolla, Terry Riley, Radamés Gnattali, Marlos Nobre, Nikita Koshkin, Roland Dyens, Jorge Morel, Edino Krieger, and Francisco Mignone. Now Sérgio Assad is adding to their repertoire by composing music for the duo and for various musical partners both with symphony orchestra and in recitals. They have worked extensively with such renowned artists as Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Fernando Suarez Paz, Romero Lubambo, Paquito D’Rivera, Gidon Kremer and Dawn Upshaw.
The Assad Brothers began playing the guitar together at an early age and went on to study for seven years with Dona Monina. Their international career began with a major prize at the 1979 Young Artists Competition in Bratislava. Odair is based in Belgium where he teaches at the Mons’ Ecole Supérieure des Arts, while Sérgio resides in San Francisco where he is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory.
The Assad’s repertoire includes original music composed by Sérgio and his own take on classic folk and jazz music, as well as various styles of Latin music. Their classical repertoire includes transcriptions of the great Baroque keyboard literature of Bach, Rameau, and Scarlatti and adaptations of works by such diverse figures as Gershwin, Ginastera, and Debussy; thus making their touring programs a compelling blend of styles, periods and cultures.
The Assads are also recognized as prolific recording artists, primarily for the Nonesuch and GHA labels. In 2001, Nonesuch Records released Sérgio and Odair Assad Play Piazzolla, which later won a Latin Grammy. Their seventh Nonesuch recording, released in the fall 2007, is called Jardim Abandonado after a piece by Antonio Carlos Jobim. It was nominated for Best Classical Album and Sérgio went on to win the Latin Grammy for his composition, Tahiiyya Li Oussilina.
A Nonesuch collaboration with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg in 2000 featured a collection of pieces based on traditional and Gypsy folk tunes from around the world. In 2003, Sérgio Assad wrote a triple concerto for this trio that has been performed with the orchestras of São Paulo, Seattle, and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. In the summer of 2004, Sérgio and Odair arranged a special tour featuring three generations of the Assad family. The family presented a wide variety of Brazilian music featuring their father, Jorge Assad (1924-2011), on the mandolin and the voice of their mother, Angelina Assad. GHA Records has released a live recording and a DVD of the Assad Family live at Brussels’ Palais des Beaux-Arts. In 2007, the duo performed Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto Madrigal and Sérgio’s arrangement of Piazzolla’s Cuatro estaciones de Buenos Aires with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl. The Assads were also featured performers on James Newton Howard’s soundtrack to the movie Duplicity, starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. In the 2011 and 2012, the brothers toured a project entitled De Volta as Raizes (Back to Our Roots) featuring Lebanese-American singer Christiane Karam, percussionist Jamey Haddad, and composer/pianist Clarice Assad.
In 2008, Odair Assad performed his first solo guitar concert tour, featuring, inter alia, concerts in Cordoba, Bad Aibling, New York and Montreal. Sérgio Assad wrote another concerto for the duo, called Phases. It premiered with the Seattle Symphony in February 2011, as well. In the meantime, he was nominated, yet again, for two Latin Classical Grammys in the Best Classical Composition Category for his piece for the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and the Delaware Symphony entitled, Interchange and for Maracaipe for the Beijing Guitar Duo. In the fall of 2011, five of the members of the Assad family: Sérgio, Odair, Badi, Clarice, and Carolina joined together again for another evening of new and favorite Brazilian works. Their tour included stops in Qatar, Sweden, Germany, The Netherlands – to open the “Brazil Festival” – at The Amsterdam Concertgebouw, and three concerts in Belgium with a finale at Le Palais des Beaux Arts. In 2012, Sérgio ‘s daughter Clarice Assad followed in the footsteps of her father and wrote her own double guitar concerto that premiered at the Pro-Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio. Every November, the brothers continue their annual residency at the University of Arizona in Tuscon with support from the D’Addario Family Foundation. In 2013, Sérgio and Odair took part in another tour with the inimitable
Paquito D’Rivera, and recorded for GHA Records a delightful album called Dances from the New World. The brothers collaborated with their old friend, jazz guitarist Romero Lubambo, in February 2013, on a tour in North America, where the trio enjoyed themselves so much they decided to add more dates in June and plan to head into the studio to record.
The Assad Brothers collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma is ongoing; in 2003 their Brazilian record Obrigado Brazil was released featuring Rosa Passos, Egberto Gismonti, and Cyro Baptista, and several of the works arranged on the record by Sérgio went on to receive Grammy awards in 2004. In 2009, the brothers were featured on Yo-Yo Ma’s chart topping release, Songs of Joy & Peace, alongside other guest artists as diverse as James Taylor and Dave Brubeck. In the piece Família, Yo-Yo plays Sérgio’s composition featuring the latter’s mother, Angelina Assad, sister, Badi, and children; Clarice, Rodrigo, and Carolina. The release topped both the classical and the mainstream Billboard charts and won a Grammy for Best Classical Crossover. In November 2015, Yo-Yo Ma and the Assad Brothers will be creating a new project with musicians from Brazil, Russia, India, and China that will first tour North America and then Europe in the spring of 2016.
In 2015, Sérgio and Odair celebrate their 50th anniversary as a duo. Their first ever performance together was in the fall of 1965 on a Brazilian television show called Boussaude, where they played with famed chôro composer Jacob do Bandolim. They started, in April 2015, with a 27-city tour in Brazil followed by ten more in North America, highlighted by a celebration at the 92nd Street Y in New York featuring their dear friends Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Paquito D’Rivera. The Guitar Foundation of America awards the Assad Brothers with its Lifetime Achievement Awards in June 2015.