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Paganini Duo at Ecuadorian Ambassador's Residence

This article was contributed by Anita Joshi who is, among many other things, a research assistant for the Center for International Relations.

The Paganini Duo, consisting of the unique arrangement of violinist Jorge Saade-Scaff and guitarist Julio Almeida, has resulted in the amalgamation of two very different spheres of classical music. The duo performed on November 22 at the Residence of the Ecuadorian Ambassador, as part of the Embassy Series concerts. The two virtuosos met while studying at the Conservatory of Guayaquil, Ecuador, where they gave their first recitals at the age of 16. Their first recording was entitled "From Paganini to the Andes," and since it was established in 2002, the Paganini Duo has performed throughout Germany, Italy, Russia, USA, Argentina, and Uruguay.

The duo aptly have adopted a namesake of Niccolò Paganini, one of the first composers to create works for both violin and guitar. Paganini had drawn criticism from his contemporaries, who cited his works as a musical diablerie due to their complexity and fury. The duo has the acuity to interpret this emotion and expressiveness borne of the tradition of the Romantic period. The interpretation of Adagio Assai Espressivo was particularly moving as the synchronization of both artists' performance of the melody was seamless yet distinct. The series of crescendos of the 2nd movement lent a momentum to the melody's development, and even the fastest parts were performed with clarity and skill. Although at times the violin's fury seemed to usurp the sound of the guitar, an exception was the Sonata Concerta, in which, despite the less-than-ideal acoustics of the intimate venue, further enraptured the spellbound audience.

The element of the performance that truly emitted an energy indicative of the duo's chemistry was during the latter half, in which they interpreted a series of compositions from their native Ecuador. Unlike the Paganini pieces, the Latin American compositions were less imbued with the violin's intensity, a trademark of Paganini's diabolical virtuosity that proves the violin was truly his weapon of choice.

The latter part of the performance elucidated the duo's versatility and interpretation ability to its fullest extent, as the duo peregrinated throughout classical Latin American tradition. The pasillos, with their genesis in Ecuadorian folk music, evoked their rustic roots as well as a mental mélange of Andean flutes and lost Incan cities. In the beautifully poetic interpretation of El Espantapajaros (The Scarecrow), the violin lent a fervor matched by the sinuous guitar arpeggios. Almeida's guitar solos revealed great precision; they were poignant and electric and elicited an awe merited by the solitude of an Andean mountain peak. Particularly moving was El Aquarela (The Watercolor) which was reminiscent of the old Spanish Malagueñas infused by the heat of the gypsy-flavored rasquedos.

Almeida’s style is pure and fluid, while Saade-Scaff is powerful like a human dynamo. The fusion of these balancing elements of style has given rise to the duo's transcontinental repertoire. Both artists have an acute intensity, and yet as a duo they are able to meld their individual skills to form a unique equilibrium based on both precision and passion.

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