Family portraits you can hear

UD Art Series presents ProMusica Chamber Orchestra and the Assad Brothers

By Joe Aiello

Most families have one – a photo of the clan assembled for a holiday gathering or the like. The hardest part is getting everyone to sit still. But an extremely gifted Brazilian composer has done one better; she has managed to get a portrait of several generations of her family, including some who are no longer living!

Her name is Clarice Assad, and on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in the South Park United Methodist Church at 140 Stonemill Road – as part of the University of Dayton Art Series – her father and uncle, with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus, will perform the world premiere of her “Álbum De Retratos” (“Family Portraits”), an original concerto for two guitars and chamber orchestra.

Clarice’s father and uncle are the world-renowned Brazilian guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad, the Assad Brothers. Composers Astor Piazzolla, Terry Riley, Radamés Gnattali and Marlos Nobre have written for them. Artists Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Paquito D’Rivera, Gidon Kremer and Dawn Upshaw have performed with them.

I asked Sergio how it makes him feel to be performing a piece that Clarice composed. “I feel very proud with Clarice’s achievements,” he remarked. “I knew since she was a child the huge talent she was, but it takes time to build it up, and she has come a long way to get to the point where she is now. She is a great writer and great orchestrator, and she is creating amazing and beautiful music.”

As to what it is about Clarice’s “Álbum de Retratos” that he likes best, Sergio replied, “Clarice wrote the concerto thinking about my brother and I, as well as our whole family. The first movement is called “Faded Pictures” and has to do with the steps of our grandparents. They were both immigrants arriving in Brazil at the beginning of the 20th century. Our grandfather was from Lebanon, our grandmother from Italy. So, the piece starts with sounds of a boat leaving the port of Marseille to go to Brazil. Since our parents went to live in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo, Clarice used elements of traditional music from that part of the country.

“The second and third movements are Clarice’s memories of her past, what she heard while she was growing up. In fact, she used brief passages of music she heard her father, uncle, and grandfather play while she was just a little girl. That is why she called the concerto ‘Family Portraits.’”

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Clarice Assad has performed professionally since the age of seven. She studied composition with Ilya Levinson, Stacy Garrop, David Rakowski, Osvaldo Golijov, Michael Daugherty, Evan Chambers, and Claude Baker. Clarice holds a Bachelor of Music from the Chicago College of the Performing Arts and Roosevelt University and a Masters of Music in Composition from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

“’Álbum de Retratos’ is an original concerto for two guitars and chamber orchestra, and the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra commissioned the piece. The idea for the commission of a new piece happened after the Orchestra performed an arrangement I wrote: a chamber version of Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures At An Exhibition’ for strings, percussion and piano.”

As to how it makes her feel to have her father and uncle premiere her composition, Clarice states, “It is a wonderful feeling. The Assad Brothers are one of the best guitar duos the world has ever known. So, on some levels, it is a (great) challenge to write for them. Also, there is the emotional part, because we are family and we are very close. I wanted to write a piece that would address this, you know? This is why I chose to work on the theme of “Family Portraits.” Each movement of the concerto is based either on a single print or photo collages that make up my family’s photo album. We can relate to that on an emotional level.”

Regarding her working relationship with her father and uncle, “We have a very beautiful relationship. And I have taken a lot of musical advice from my father along the years. I often ask him for advice and insights, when I am composing something new. With my uncle, is a little different as we don’t communicate as often, but I am always interested in his opinions as well. For this particular concerto, I did not have that much input at all, except towards the end, when I gave my father a finished draft of the piece. We had agreed on having him revise the guitar part, if it needed be, but – as it turned out because I worked with a guitar in hand – not many changes were made to the score.”

Under the direction of Co-Founder and Music Director, Timothy Russell, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra program also includes the music of Maurice Ravel (“Le Tombeau de Couperin”), Aaron Copand (“Appalachian Spring”) and Ottorino Respighi (“Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1”), a rare treat in the pristine acoustic space of South Park Church (just across Brown Street from campus).

The Assad Brothers and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra will perform on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at South Park United Methodist Church, 140 Stonemill Road.  Pre-performance talk featuring composer Clarice Assad and conductor Tim Russell at 6:30 p.m. General admission: $15; Seniors, non-UD students, UD faculty, staff and alumni: $10; UD students: $5. For more information, visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at

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A member of the Writers Guild of America, native Daytonian Joe Aiello is the author of numerous screenplays, non-fiction books, novels, TV sitcom pilots, news features, magazine articles, and documentaries. He fills his spare time coaching College, A, AA amateur and semi-pro baseball teams; answering trivia quizzes; and denigrating himself attempting to play golf. Reach Joe at

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