Two-man guitar band meets the L.A. Phil

Special to The Times

AUDIENCES have come to expect a lot from concert guitarists. Since guitarists rarely stand, or move, and it’s hard to see their fingers from far away -- not to mention all the “lite” cafe-style fare written for the guitar -- attending a guitar concert can be a little, shall we say, restful.

With a compelling program, however, and an animated guitar duo -- as well as video close-ups of their trills and twangy plucks -- a “guitar meets the symphony” concert is an entirely different animal. And so it was for brothers Sergio and Odair Assad and the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Mischa Santora at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Sept. 9, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 09, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood Bowl: In some editions of Thursday’s Calendar Weekend, a review of Tuesday night’s Hollywood Bowl concert said the program began with a selection by Gimenez. In fact, Rodrigo’s “Concierto Madrigal” opened the concert.

The Assads, two middle-aged Brazilians who tour together frequently despite separate home bases in Brussels and Chicago, are the premier guitar duo today. They won a Latin Grammy for a CD of Astor Piazzolla tangos, and they’ve collaborated frequently with such top instrumentalists as violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.


On Tuesday, they appeared bearded, wearing black clothes, and throughout the night it was hard to tell them apart. Which could have been the point: They aren’t just soloists but a two-man, multi-voice band of soloists who play instinctively well together, with consistent rhythmic intuition and soul.

They started off with Rodrigo’s “Concierto madrigal,” a multi-movement virtuosi piece with historic, Italian-style madrigal writing and plenty of scale tricks in thirds. Here they impressed not only with their lightning runs and groovy rhythmic measures but with a meditative, nostalgic movement, as slurred, two-note groupings descended the scale over a soft string-section blanket, with winds coursing through the musical space.

It was here too that Santora, a tall, rising young conductor, proved himself more than just a sharp technical leader. A last-minute substitute for the originally scheduled Miguel Harth-Bedoya, he crafted subtle interplays between his musicians without having to employ a broad stroke or spread his considerable wingspan. He later conducted the Assads in music by Piazzolla -- an Assad arrangement followed by a terrifically exciting two-guitar show-tango -- and the crowd swooned.

At the end of the night, the soloists left the stage for the orchestra to perform Revueltas’ primal and modernist “Sensemaya,” the Latin American “Rite of Spring,” with all the timbral verve and inventive punctuation called for in Stravinsky.

The last purely orchestral work, Galindo’s “Sones de mariachi,” was a festive street serenade, but it seemed more like a call back to the Brazilian strummers who had given the beginning of the evening so much life.