Musica Brasiliera: A Conversation with Maestro Celso Machado

Apr 6, 2012

The Murray State University Classical Guitar Ensemble is fairly new to campus. Last year, the ensemble played in its first full concert with the string ensemble, and they will be doing so again this Tuesday evening. Much of the music from the first concert came from the Brazilian composer, Maestro Celso Machado. And this year, the ensemble will present the United States premier of Maestro Machado’s most recent composition for quartet, Suite Amazonas. Gary Pitts, a member of the ensemble, reports on the life and works of the composer.

GARY: Celso Machado was born in 1953 in the south of Brazil near Sao Paulo. He’s the second youngest of five brothers, all of whom are musicians. His father passed away when he was just three years old, but he left the family heavily infused with a culture of music.

MACHADO: “The music was already there, no? All day long, somebody was playing some sort of an instrument.”

GARY: Celso’s father was a guitarist. So were his brothers. His oldest brother learned from their father, and he passed the knowledge on.

MACHADO: “Of course my brother was teaching me guitar, he teaching me mainly mostly like Brazilian music, the Bossa Nova chords and that kind of thing.”

GARY: Rhythm is an extremely important part of Brazilian music. Arguably more so than any other aspect. So along with being wonderful guitarists, Celso and his brothers are all very talented percussionists. He says growing up, they were always banging on something.

MACHADO: “Pots and pans, and chairs and tables, and that’s the way we make music at home.”

GARY: So growing up, Machado’s home was filled with Brazilian music. But early on, he developed an interest in European classical music. He and his brothers moved often, taking jobs in bands all throughout the country. But wherever they went, he found someone who could teach him the classical style.

MACHADO: “Especially for Bach, and Vivaldi, and Handel, and Dowland, I’ve always been very, very fascinated with this music.”

GARY: In fact, he was so fascinated with it, that he decided to move to Europe and immerse himself within the culture. It was there that he composed the suite Dancas Populares Brasilieras. It’s a set of short pieces for guitar quartet based on Brazilian dances. He says while in Europe, he began to feel homesick, and writing the suite reminded him of home. One piece, Ciranda, is based on a children’s dance.

MACHADO: “Ciranda is like kids holding their hands together in a circle, and turning around, and singing some children’s songs.”

GARY: Another part of the suite is piece called Ponteio. It contrasts sharply with Ciranda. It’s more dissonant, and rhythmically complex. Machado explains Ciranda is more representative of music from south Brazil, while Ponteio represents the north.

MACHADO: “That style of the music comes from the northeast of Brazil. It’s a continuous open ‘D’ note. Very typical of music from the northeast. Sometimes called a repent, they improvise by playing with the open chords.”

GARY: This semester, the MSU Classical Guitar Ensemble performs Celso Machado’s most recent work for guitar quartet, Suite Amazonas. It is a beautiful, complex, and challenging work that takes the listener through a range of emotions. Maestro Machado says the first and third movements of the suite were written fairly recently, but he started writing the second movement many years ago.

MACHADO: “Sometimes that’s the way that it happens to me. I have a lot of things that I start, there’s compositions that I started twenty years ago. And they’re still there, and then all of the sudden, Oh!, let’s do something with that.”

GARY: Suite Amazonas will make its US premier when the MSU ensemble plays it in concert. Machado says to his knowledge, it’s only other performance thus far was in Costa Rica, since that’s where he was when he finished it, and he wanted to know what it sounded like. 

The combined guitar and string ensemble concert is this Tuesday evening, April 10, at 7:30 in Murray State’s Performing Arts Hall. The guitar ensemble will be playing works from Celso Machado, as well as Maurice Ravel and Leo Brouwer.