When Sérgio and Odair Assad released their album Jardim Abandonado (“Abandoned Garden”) this past fall, it garnered reviews filled with a sort of rapture usually reserved for religious conversions. The brothers’ precise yet soulful recordings of classical works by Debussy and Milhaud—along with their spot-on interpretations of pop, folk, and jazz from their native Brazil—have earned them kudos as the best classical guitar duo of today, and their tours are eagerly anticipated by audiences in Europe and South America.
But when Sérgio Assad finishes the last concert on these tours, few in the audience know that he heads home to Chicago. His wife, Angela Olinto, is a professor of astrophysics at the University of Chicago; they met in 1995, when the Assad brothers performed for the extensive concert series at Fermilab, where Olinto worked. Sérgio, 55, moved to Chicago for her. (The couple return here early next year from Olinto’s yearlong residency in Paris, where she received the Chaire d’Excellence from the French National Research Agency.)
The Assad brothers’ ability to move fluidly among music genres comes naturally from their upbringing. “My father is a choro player,” Sérgio explains, referring to the compositional form that predates Brazil’s better-known musical exports, “and we started on choro. And while we trained as classical players, we were at the same time playing sambas and bossa novas as we grew up.
“In Brazil, the music is so pervasive,” he adds. “I haven’t seen here what I see over there, the musical gatherings that take place just for the pleasure of playing music.”
In the States, he also can’t experience his brother’s company, except when they tour or record. That’s because Odair, too, moved for love. He married a Belgian woman and lives in Brussels. To Sérgio, it makes perfect sense: “Our wives, they have their jobs, and we have more flexible lives. We’re musicians.”
See the Assad brothers (joined by their sister, Badi) on Jan. 31st at 7:30 p.m. at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus. pickstaiger.com or 847-467-4000
Photograph: Courtesy of Nonesuch