Guitarist Adam Levin and violinist William Knuth of Duo Sonidos
Young musicians set out to show that classical music is "cool and fun."
dam Levin and William Knuth
have experienced the Traverse
City, Mich., area surrounding
Michigan's Interlochen Center for the Arts.
It's not because they studied there; it's
because they have performed there as part
of a chamber-music series.
The musicians in Duo Sonidos (Two
Sounds) — Levin as guitarist and Knuth
as violinist — are about to experience
the Metro Detroit area as they return
to Michigan for two distinct concerts
announced by the Chamber Music Society
They will appear at 8 p.m. Friday, March
14, at the Jazz Cafe of the Music Hall
Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit
and at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16, at Varner
Recital Hall on the campus of Oakland
University in Rochester.
"On Friday night, we will have a mixed
recital of music by composers from the
Americas, including Manuel de Falla,
Astor Piazzolla, Jorge Muniz, Robert
Beaser and George Gershwin," says Levin,
31, in a phone conversation from his home
"De Falla's Canciones Populares
Espanolas were originally for voice and
piano and later adapted for every imagin-
able combination speaking to the folk
music of Spain. Piazzolla's Histoire du
Tango reflects his work as the 'King of
Tango' from Argentina7
Moving to the music of the United
States, they offer Funk by Muniz, a profes-
sor at Indiana University South Bend, who
fuses a contemporary style into his com-
positions. Beaser's Mountain Songs access
American folklore while selections from
Porgy and Bess enter the realm of modern
"We'll be tapping into additional folklore
with Sunday's concert; explains Levin,
who lists program similarities with works
by de Falla, Muniz and Gershwin and dif-
ferences with works by Bela Bartok, Karol
Szymanowski and Lukas Foss.
"We'll perform Bartok's Romanian Folk
Dances, Szymanowski's The Dawn and
Wild Dances, and Foss' Three American
Pieces. We're tapping into Will's Polish
heritage with Szymanowski and my Jewish
heritage with Foss, Beaser and Gershwin.
"I really enjoy the diversity of imagina-
tion in all these works. There's so much
fantasy and romance in the music that it
forces us to explore palettes of color avail-
able to us through our instruments and
Levin and Knuth, who have been work-
ing together for almost eight years and
also appear as soloists throughout the
United States and Europe, want to offer
fresh perspectives on masterworks that
originally were for other instrumental
combinations. Early Spanish influences are
reflected in their name.
"Many of the works we're performing
were for violin and piano or flute and gui-
tar;' Levin says. "I think a nontraditional
combination — guitar and violin — offers
interesting repertoire that isn't performed
as often on two instruments that are
extremely well known. I believe we are
pioneers in the field:'
Levin, who started playing guitar when
he was 7, went years before thinking of a
career as a musician. Instruments were
part of family recreational pursuits. His
dad, David, a clinical psychologist, and
sister, Adriane, a medical student, play
classical guitar. His mom, Veda, an options
trader, prefers piano.
The change in academic concentration
came after he completed premed require-
ments while also taking up psychology
and musical performance at Northwestern
University in Evanston, Ill.
"In my last year, I went to Italy to study
with Oscar Ghiglia, a protege of Andres
Segovia; the guitarist recalls. "He believed
in me and convinced me that it was worth
going into music. I quickly changed
courses and went to study with Eliot Fisk,
Ghiglia's prized student on the faculty at
the New England Conservatory of Music
Levin, who earned a master's degree in
guitar performance, studied in Spain for
three years on a Fulbright scholarship to
research contemporary Spanish music.
He and Knuth, who met while complet-
ing chamber-music requirements at the
conservatory, had felt a musical chemistry
through their work together and went on
to perform throughout Spain.
"We recorded a piece together on my
first album, In the Beginning; Levin says.
"That was by an Israeli composer, Jan
Freidlin. Our debut album was [the epony-
mous] Duo Sonidos."
Levin explains that the two — first-
prize winners at the 2010 Luys Milan
International Chamber Music Competition
in Spain — early on focused on the music
of Spain because the country is a spiritual
homeland for classical guitar.
"We branched out to American music,
South American music and Western
European music," says Levin, who teaches
guitar at the University of Massachusetts
Boston and Middlesex Community College.
"I decided my mission will be to teach
the next generation of young classical gui-
tarists and advocate for the guitar and its
Levin has made four solo recordings.
The most recent, titled 21st Century
Spanish Guitar, is the first of four volumes
to be released on the Naxos label and
explores works he commissioned while liv-
ing in Spain.
Levin and Knuth have organized a pro-
gram of music by Jewish composers for
"We are exploring music from
Sephardim to secular modern Americans;
the guitarist says. "The idea is to present
programs that demonstrate the diversity of
sounds created by Jewish composers.
"We include a few non-Jewish com-
posers who were fascinated by elements
of Judaism and wrote pieces based on
Hebraic or Sephardic melodies.
"That's been a profound way for me to
reclaim my identity as a Jew and to engage
the Jewish community in an educational
search through music by Jewish compos-
Although Knuth is not Jewish, he has a
strong personal link to the Holocaust. His
grandmother survived a concentration
When Levin is not working or spending
time with his girlfriend, he enjoys running
and cooking with his sister. The two collect
recipes and get together for cook-a-thons.
As Duo Sonidos, we are able to use our
instruments as a gateway to classical music;
Levin says. "We're excited about the out-
reach activities involved with our Michigan
performances, and we hope to show that
classical music is cool and fun7
Duo Sonidos will perform at 8 p.m.
Friday, March 14, in the Jazz Cafe
of the Music Hall Center for the
Performing Arts, 350 Madison, in
Detroit, $30-$40. The duo also will
appear at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16,
at Varner Recital Hall on the campus
of Oakland University, University
and Squirrel roads, in Rochester,
$10-$20. (248) 855-6070;
March 13 • 2014