"This is a giant event in guitar studies," said Andrew Zohn, the guitar professor in the Columbus State University Schwob School of Music.
The Schwob School and the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians commissioned a piece by Sergio Assad. That piece, "Suite Brasiliera," is written for three guitars. The world premiere will be Sunday. The students performing the piece are Chad Ibison, Arash Noori and Donovan Butez.
Another Assad piece, "Menino," will be played by guitarists Christopher Atkins and Todd Holcomb and cellist Harrison Cook.
"Suite Brasiliera" is a difficult piece. Zohn said Assad asked if the students could handle the piece. Zohn assured him that they were up to the task.
Assad, a world-class guitarist, often plays with his brother, Odair, as the Assad Brothers or the Assad Duo. But Sergio Assad also composes.
He is here this week, working with the trio.
"It is very difficult," Ibison said. "It is harmonically complex and rhythmically complex. It's very Brazilian in sound."
"I think he put in as many notes as possible," said Holcomb, who is not playing the piece, but has heard it. He says it will help to have Assad here. Holcomb, who already has his master's degree, is working on his artist's diploma, a post-graduate diploma.
Zohn said besides being a top-notch composer, Assad is one of the top 10 living guitarists in the world today.
Butez said the tempo of "Suite Brasiliera" is so fast that he has to really listen to the other two guitarists.
"We really have to listen to each other," Butez said. "We have to stay focused."
The other piece, "Menino," is also a difficult piece, Holcomb said. With a cellist performing with the two guitarists, he thought that he'd have a moment or two to rest his fingers. No such luck.
Ibison, who is graduating next month, has received a fellowship at the University of Texas in Austin. The others joke that he's got it made -- a $26,000 stipend, free tuition and health insurance.
"I've done pretty well for my immediate future," Ibison said. "I've been traveling at lot taking part in competitions."
He said he'll be in school for at least four years, maybe even five. Then he hopes to have the kind of career Zohn has: Teaching on the college level, performing internationally and composing music.
For Atkins and Holcomb, they too laugh that they plan to stay in school as long as possible.
Zohn is pleased with the number of students he has performing in the Guitar Studio. He has 12 in all, with three guitar quartets, a guitar trio, a guitar and flute, a guitar and violin and two guitars and cello. The students also perform solos.
As for the guitar trio Ibison is performing Sunday, he said, "It's a really great opportunity to do a premiere. What Dr. Zohn is doing is as good as you can find anywhere."
Via e-mail, Assad answered the students' questions:
When did you start composing?I started as a songwriter when I was 13 to participate in my high school music competition. It was a surprise to find out that I could actually do it. If you can create melodies as a start point you can develop into the more complex craft of being a composer later.
What are your influences and has your time in America had any influence?I’ve been pretty much driven by my instrument and growing up I heard all sorts of guitar playing from Julian Bream to Wes Montgomery. On the other hand, Brazilian music had nourished a lot my sense of harmony and melodies. The 60’s and 70’s musical movements in Brazil, such as the bossa nova and the tropicalismo had also to do with blends of our traditional music with the French impressionism and guided me through a long stretch of time in my composing life. We are the result of what we are exposed to and in that sense American jazz and minimalism have also given me tools to deal with.
Do you find the guitar to be your ideal medium for composition?Yes! It is the instrument I know the best and I think the guitar besides being an excellent solo medium it can also have a role in chamber settings comparable to any keyboard instrument.
How do you see your career going in the future? More composing, performance-based or both?As I grow older I feel that I must dedicate more of my time to composition. Composing requires full dedication and it is quite difficult to maintain both careers running simultaneously. At this time in my life I think I’ve done a lot in terms of playing but haven’t done as much as I think I could in terms of writing.
Having traveled all over the world, what are your favorite places and experiences?Places and people are extremely different and their reaction to a performance are dictated by their culture. We cannot expect a Japanese audience to react like an European or a Latin American one. By cultural similarities with my background, I would prefer the Mediterranean sort of reaction that I find also in the Brazilian culture.
The Ledger-Enquirer also asked several more questions:
How long did it take to compose “Suite Brasiliera,” the new piece for CSU?I wrote it slowly given that I had a long time to do it. I asked Andrew Zohn about the technical difficulties of it since this piece requires some technical strength. He told me to go ahead since the students are in such a high level.
Where do you get your inspiration?I worked on themes I’ve collected through the years. I constantly write down ideas and when I need to, I visit my ideas folder and get what I need. As I wanted to write a second "Suite Brasileira" for some time (there is a first one for guitar duo), I saw here an opportunity to do so. I thought of creating a guitar quartet first but as I’ve written pieces for guitar quartets before and haven’t done any for guitar trio I thought it would be nicer to create the trio.
What’s it like to perform with your brother? Since you go on tour quite a bit, are there any arguments? And who usually wins?We used to argue quite a lot in the past but as years move along and you get to know your partner musically much more things come to a common understanding and the very different ways of viewing the same composition become less evident.
Who is older?I’m four years older than Odair.
What do you think of Columbus? I know you’ve been here a couple of times now.I’m always surprised by the development of the cities in America. You can have incredible cultural events in smaller cities and one doesn’t need anymore to go to New York or Chicago for instance, to be exposed to highly qualified art. Columbus offers quite a lot and it is a nice place.
And will you be back for the Guitar Foundation of America national convention here next year?.I would love to! One of the best sounding halls in the country is exactly the one (Legacy Hall) over there.
The program includes “Ponticello Tango” by Patrick Roux, with Chad Ibison, Arash Noori, Donovan Butez and Kimani Griffin, “Sonata Concertata” by Niccolo Paganini with Joel Sharbaugh on guitar and Sam Wood on violin; “Menino” by Sergio Assad with Christopher Adkins and Todd Holcomb on guitars and cellist Harrison Cook, “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla with Sharbaugh and flutist Sarah Bridges, “Les 4 Points Cardinaux” by Francis Kleynjans, “Drei Valses” by Johannes Brahms with Adkins, Kimberly Elkin, Matthew Burkett and Andrew Creel and “Humoresque and Dance” by Andrew Zohn with Butez and violinist Christina Madruga.
After the intermission, the program continues with “Quartet in G-Major, Opus 3, No. 5” by Franz Josef Haydn, “Solvejgs Sang” and "Der Var Engang" by Edvard Grieg with Holcomb, Jacob Brown, David Sigler and Sharbaugh, “Valse” by Francis Poulenc with Sigler and Creel, “Sonata, Opus 3, No. 6” by Paganini with Ibison and violinist Boris Abramov, “Minue e Vals” by Jose Ferrer with Sharbaugh and Burkett and "Suite Brasiliera” by Assad with Ibison, Noori and Butez.
The concert is 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Legacy Hall, RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, 900 Broadway.