Musician/composer Clarice Assad told The Beat she loves living what she called “the gypsy life.” She meant this in the literal sense, as she is often away from home for one kind of gig or another.
However, the reference could be used not only to describe her travels but also, in a figurative sense, her music. She is a sought-after pianist and vocalist, performing jazz and Brazilian styles (she is a native of Rio de Janeiro), and has multiple solo recordings to her credit. She is the winner of a host of awards for composition, composing for a wide variety of instrumentations, and has written for theater and ballet. As a teacher, she maintains a slate of piano students but also leads workshops on a variety of topics, including scat singing and vocal percussion.
ProMusica Chamber Orchestra has commissioned her to write a piece for the orchestra and a guitar duo – specifically the Assad Brothers, the composer’s father and uncle.
“I do think it all comes from the same place, definitely from the heart,” Clarice Assad told The Beat by phone from San Francisco, where she was performing concerts with percussionist Keita Ogawa.
“With any project, I give 100 percent of myself to it, so there is much more emotional context than genre.”
She added that, when composing, it helps to know your ensemble.
“It’s a collaboration. That’s very important. If they’re going to perform it, they should want to do it so they can best communicate the music.”
Music was constant in the Assad family when Clarice was growing up in Brazil, but music for her was more natural than forced.
“I was never told ‘Go learn this.’ We just had this feeling of ‘Let’s make music together,’ ” she said, adding, “I didn’t learn to read music until I was in my late teens. I never really had any training.”
The familial relationship for the piece to be performed by ProMusica extends beyond composer and guest performers. The piece is titled Album de Retratos and is a three-movement piece based on the family photo album of Clarice’s grandmother.
“I have written for (the Assad Brothers) before but never anything so specific. And to also write for such a fantastic orchestra, I thought, (the piece) had better be pretty good,” she said with a laugh.
“There’s an emotional connection to the idea of family that everybody can relate to, I think. That’s why I took that route.”
Assad said the first movement concerns the migration of her great-grandfather from Lebanon to Brazil. She called the movement “very literal” in the sense that she attempts to recreate certain sounds (the ocean, for example) and also blends Middle Eastern and Brazilian styles.
The second movement is based on his meeting with the woman who would become his wife. Assad told The Beat of a photo that shows the two seated together but looking uncomfortable, almost awkward.
“You wonder, looking at the picture, ‘How did they even get together?’ And here are all of us from that meeting.”
The final movement is based on a collage of photos from the past 30 years, and also features hints of music she heard from her grandfather and that her father has performed.
“It should be a lot of fun,” she said. “I hope that comes across.”