Clarice Assad


photo by Jennifer Van Elk

Clarice Assad (b.1978) is a Brazilian-American grammy-nominated composer, pianist, vocalist, bandleader and educator.  A versatile musician of depth and imagination,  Assad has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo, the Albany Symphony, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the BRAVO! Vail Music Festival and the La Jolla Music Festival, to name a few.   Her works have been recorded by some of the most prominent names and groups in classical music today, including Yo-Yo Ma, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, Eugenia Zuckerman, Chanticleer and Liang Wang. As a performer, Assad has shared the stage with Bobby McFerrin, Anat Cohen, Paquito D’Rivera and Tom Harrell, among others. An avid and innovative educator, Assad has led master classes and held residencies at the University of Michigan, Roosevelt University, the Juilliard School and the University of Texas.  Assad is a founding member of the Chicago based music and poetry publishing company Virtual Artists Collective and VOXPloration, an award winning research based outreach program and workshop for children and adolescents on spontaneous music creation, composition and improvisation.

Program Note:

Dreamscapes is a musical depiction of what happens during a dream from the moment one falls asleep, until fully awake. Its form is loosely based upon my research on the subject of rapid eye movement (REM) and lucid dreaming. Both give the piece a sectional but solid structure, divided by phases and segments. The human aspect of Dreamscapes is that it follows a story line which I developed by taking notes of my own dreams. While this was a fantastic new experience for me, it also presented quite a few challenges, such as how to organize all of this imagery, abstract thought, and sensation into a cohesive piece of music.

Fortunately, the solution presented itself once I realized that most of the time while I dreamt, I was always present, either as myself or as an observer, and my main desire was often to have a pleasant dreaming experience at all costs. However, once deeply into the dream, I would always find myself drifting away from pleasant sensations to whatever else my unconscious suggested, which was for the most part filled with negativity. Not surprisingly, since we are bombarded everyday with bad news: war headlines, economic crisis and harmful thoughts which stay in our subconscious without our awareness. In several occasions I caught myself fighting to go back to nice feelings of contentment but more often than not, I would lose the battle and completely surrender to the power of these suggestions.

This notion of awareness vs. unconsciousness is what motivated me to apply different roles to the instruments within the orchestra. The solo violin represents self-awareness, while the orchestra represents the unconscious mind, providing the scenario changes throughout the piece. Dreamscapes begins with a series of colorful effects that symbolize the moments prior to falling asleep, when the dreamer is still conscious enough to have power over their own thoughts – then, a slow theme is introduced, symbolizing the dream which the self wishes to have. However, the theme is gradually dispersed as the dreamer goes deeper into sleep, losing consciousness and power. After the first REM has been fully completed the dreamer has again the power to take control over their own dream and eventually is able to fulfill that desire. This happens with the recurrence of the slow theme once again, but this time a new ‘individual’ is introduced into the dream (represented by a solo cello melodic line). The solo cello and violin then have a passionate encounter which is lost abruptly as the unconscious mind takes over yet again. This time struggle between the self and unconscious occurs in a fierce manner, eventually leading to a sequence of horrific events, similar to what one experiences during a nightmare.

Dreamscapes relies highly on visual imagery as it draws from emotional content which is rich in contrasting ideas and recurring themes that appear in abrupt or subtle forms. The most important notion to keep in mind is that the self represents peacefulness, harmony and beauty while the unconscious is always forcing negative scenarios. —Clarice Assad