By Sharalee Fraser
EDMOND:: PHILADELPHIA CHURCH OF GOD—Guitarists Sérgio and Odair Assad and clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera brought their musical artistry—and skills that have won 14 Grammys between them—to the stage of Armstrong Auditorium on April 16. They performed their collaboration of “Dances From the New World” for an audience of almost 400.
The concert featured a variety of Latin dance music by over 12 classical and contemporary composers, including D’Rivera.
The program began with a trio of songs performed by the Assad brothers. At times their playing was seamlessly synchronized—audience members said it almost sounded as if they were playing the same guitar—a previous reviewer characterized their sound: “two instruments and one brain.”
D’Rivera joined the brothers for five more pieces in the first half, cracking jokes with the brothers and the audience between pieces. The group’s camaraderie onstage was just as authentic offstage. “This was their last concert together,” said Herbert W. Armstrong College music instructor Mark Jenkins, “so they spent extra time backstage hanging out and drinking scotch.” They even shared some laughs with foundation chairman Gerald Flurry backstage at a meet-and-greet after the show.
With guitars providing a bit of Latin flair, the second-to-last piece of the first half was a lively take on Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” from the ballet Rodeo. The three managed to simultaneously display flawless execution and an ease that made it seem they were enjoying an impromptu jam session in their living room. Afterward, D’Rivera: turned to the audience: “That was fun, huh?”
After intermission, D’Rivera took the stage for a solo performance, including his improvisation on themes by a famed jazz trumpeter. “I am going to be improvising a little bit around some of the melodies that Dizzy [Gillespie] wrote. Sometimes I remember more of them, sometimes less…depends how much they pay,” he joked. He also garnered some audience participation, by having them join in the vocal exclamations of “Salt Peanuts,” joking that Gillespie wrote the music and Jimmy Carter wrote the lyrics.
The Assad brothers rejoined D’Rivera for five more songs and an encore to close the show. At one point, D’Rivera held up a his rather long piece of sheet music for the audience to see and Sérgio Assad told the audience, “He can’t read music, it’s just to impress you. …We write all these notes, and he plays something else.”
“I will tell you what happened, I studied music at a school for politicians,” joked D’Rivera. He also told audience members that if they didn’t like the group’s CD, they could always sell it on eBay.
Joking aside, the Assad brothers and D’Rivera’s respect and admiration for each other shone through their music. “Working with the Assad brothers is something out of this planet. They’re incredibly good,” D’Rivera said.
The three performers met in 2003 as a part of cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s “Obrigado Brazil” project. Between working together and improvising together backstage, a strong friendship was born, and they created “Dances From the New World” in 2005. Since then, they have toured on and off together, performing it in the United States and Europe. Their performances have been described as “pure artistry.”
Brazilian-born Sérgio and Odair Assad are known as the world’s greatest guitar duo for their virtuosic playing and contribution to the revival of contemporary music for guitar duo. They began learning guitar together at a young age; their international career launched when they won a major prize at the 1979 Young Artists Competition. They have toured Europe, Asia, and North and South America and performed with Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Dawn Upshaw, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Seattle Symphony. When not on tour, the brothers are both teachers—Odair is based in Brussels and teaches at the Ecole Supérieure des Arts, and Sérgio splits his time between Paris and San Francisco, where he is on the music faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory. Sérgio Assad has also done considerable composing and arranging work particularly for the guitar duo.
Cuban-born Paquito D’Rivera was a child prodigy onboth the saxophone and clarinet. At the age of 10, he performed with Cuba’s National Theater Orchestra. After studying at the Havana Conservatory of Music, he became a featured soloist with the Cuban National Symphony at 17. He is known for his skills as a Latin jazz artist and is a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts in 2008 by President George W. Bush. D’Rivera has performed with the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the Costa Rica National Symphony. Besides recording over 30 solo albums, he is a founding member and guest conductor of the United Nations Orchestra and is a member of several highly acclaimed ensembles: the Chamber Jazz Ensemble, the Paquito D’Rivera Big Band, and the Paquito D’Rivera Quintet. He is also an avid composer for classical and jazz music. His numerous commissions include compositions for jazz at Lincoln Center.
Before their performance, the Assads recognized the concert series’ connection with that of the Ambassador Foundation under Herbert W. Armstrong.
“The Assads walked into the theater for the first time, looked around and asked what connection we had to Ambassador,” house manager Ryan Malone said. “They recognized the inside from when they performed there in the 80s. They remembered it because they knew the Ambassador had Brazilian rosewood in the theater. So they were asking if ours was the same. I told them no, but we had Brazilian marble in the restrooms.”
The concert series’ reputation has also gained notice from concertgoers.
One season ticket holder said she first came in contact with the concert series through seeing Herbert W. Armstrong College students at a local restaurant. She said she noticed a well-dressed group of young people with polite manners, and that the waiter told her they were Armstrong College having a graduation dinner. Over the next few months, she noticed people who would dine at the restaurant ordering coffee and dessert on their way to a concert. She eventually discovered that they were not on their way south to Oklahoma City, but north to the rural outskirts of Edmond and Armstrong Auditorium. That association and the encounter with the students led her to buy tickets, and she became a season ticket holder after that.
One of the regular concertgoers remembered D’Rivera from when her father played with him in Cuba and was able to speak with him for several minutes while he signed autographs after the show.