Guitar virtuosos return to Appleton

Guitarists bow after a standing ovation.
Picture by Taylor Blackson.

On Monday, April 9, Lawrence University welcomed the Brasil Guitar Duo as part of its yearlong World Music Series. The duo, comprised of João Luiz and Douglas Lora, is a past winner of the Concert Artists Guild International Competition and has performed for audiences around the world. Their performances feature a combination of Brazilian and traditional works for two guitars and have received wide critical acclaim.

There were only a handful of empty seats in Harper Hall as Lawrence students and other community members waited for the Brasil Guitar Duo to take the stage. I was immediately captivated. Both musician’s fingers seemed to dance across the fretboards of their guitars as they moved through the frantic tango melodies of Astor Piazzolla’s “Zita.” They were completely in sync, effortlessly trading between melodic and supporting lines. Luiz and Lora have been playing together for twenty years, and by this point they have become nearly a single guitar-shredding entity while on stage. Their cohesive energy contrasted with their serene and confident stage presence; this created a tempered mood that set the tone for the rest of the concert.

After their first piece, the duo noted that they were happy to be here. Their last visit to Appleton had been in 2008 – the duo jokingly anticipated an upcoming 2028 appearance. They kept their remarks brief and soon launched into three selections by Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti. These pieces showcased a variety of styles and moods, and the duo showed themselves to be as versatile as they were virtuosic. Certain sections featured frenzied strumming and fingerstyle rhythms, while others had one musician playing a slow, somber melody as the other accompanied with relaxed arpeggio harmonies.

After intermission, the duo played the entirety of famed Cuban composer Leo Brouwer’s “Sonata de los Viajeros.” Brouwer’s piece tells the story of two travelers, with each movement representing a different destination along their voyage. The duo’s performance was incredibly evocative. Their extensive history of performing worldwide must have taught them how to conjure the musical spirit of a place.

“Sonata de los Viajeros” was a tour-de-force lasting nearly 30 minutes. Luiz and Lora announced that they would have to cut the last few selections from their program due to time restraint. After they closed with an upbeat Brazilian dance tune called a Coxa, the audience erupted in applause and immediately awarded a standing ovation to the Brasil Guitar Duo. The men bowed gracefully while clutching their guitars before themselves. The approbation didn’t stop when they left the stage, prompting them to emerge again for a brief but well-deserved encore.

The Brasil Guitar Duo is an extremely impressive group. Both Luiz and Lora are virtuosic musicians in their own right, but when they join forces a real phenomenon is created. I thoroughly enjoyed their performance and left with a greater appreciation for the vibrant musical tradition of Brazil.


Jay MacKenzie