The path from J.S. Bach to Bootsy Collins is not easy to negotiate, but Duo Sonidos makes the trip seem like a perfectly natural progression.
Guitarist Adam Levin and violinist William Knuth both carry top credentials as classical musicians, and they’ve teamed up to explore — and expand — the repertoire for guitar-violin duet.
Tuesday at Indiana University South Bend’s Campus Auditorium, Duo Sonidos will present a concert that juxtaposes stately pieces from 18th-century Europe with a brand-new composition by IUSB’s Jorge Muñiz, titled “Funk.”
“He mimics a lot of funk effects, like slap bass, with pizzicato,” Levin says by telephone from Boston. “He creates a rhythmic drive, this motor force that builds throughout the entire piece.” Duo Sonidos commissioned the work from Muñiz, recognizing him as a kindred spirit: someone who respects classical traditions, but with an interest in exploring new perspectives. He teaches composition and theory at IUSB, and has already written extensively for both chamber and symphonic forces.
Muñiz explains that although “Funk” is not a virtuoso showcase, it does require expert musicians to make it succeed. “I’m using some extended techniques with the instruments: more percussive colors for the guitar, some snapped pizzicatos for the violin,” Muñiz says.
“Funk” is in one movement, but subdivided into three sections. It builds from a slow, contemplative beginning and gradually makes its way into a fast groove.
In the middle of “Funk,” the violin takes on the role of a singer, even a rapper. Muñiz achieves this effect via short, fast, syncopated phrases that he’s marked “like speaking” in the score. “There’s even a sense of rhyme in the cadence, the way a voice rises and drops,” Muñiz says. “At the same time, the guitar gives the clear pulse, like a drum set.”
The concert will begin with arrangements of violin sonatas by Handel and Corelli. Levin’s guitar will provide the accompaniment usually performed by a harpsichord or a piano.“We try to pick Baroque pieces that show the more rock ’n’ roll Baroque side of things, rather than the tame Baroque that’s become clichéd,” Knuth says. “We can really tear into these pieces.”
Corelli’s sonata, a set of variations on a theme nicknamed “La Folia,” is an ideal vehicle for this kind of voracious musicianship. “It has a smoldering intensity that’s bubbling under the surface and explodes at points,” Knuth says.
Bach appears in the program by way of his B-minor partita for solo violin, with a creative spin from the duo. The musicians play different movements of the work simultaneously, superimposing sections that were originally separate, shining new light on Bach’s compositional logic.
The duo also will perform a series of three homages from contemporary composer Eduardo Morales-Caso. The works are in tribute to Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Mompou and Manuel de Falla. Levin and Knuth did their own transcription work in transforming Xavier Montsalvatge’s song cycle “Cinco Canciones Negras” into a guitar-violin duet. Levin arranged the piano part for his guitar, while Knuth “sings” the vocal part with his lead violin line.
“It’s super-idiomatic for both instruments,” Levin says. “It’s our way of contributing something to the (guitar-violin) repertoire.”
The show closes with a couple of selections from Robert Beaser’s “Mountain Songs.”
Neither conservative nor radical, Duo Sonidos operates as a unit that is largely traditional, albeit with a huge curiosity in pulling classical music into the present and future. The same description easily applies to Muñiz. He’s confident that the musicians will interpret his composition properly, from a funky frame of mind. “It needs to sound,” Muñiz says, “like a couple of performers just getting together and jamming.”