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Dynamic guitar duo: Separated at birth?

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In many of the raving concert reviews that critics have heaped on the Pearl-Gray Duo, a Baltimore-based classical guitar team, it's often noted how impeccably matched these two musicians are in performance.

Immaculately dressed in matching suits, Julian Gray and Ronald Pearl have mastered the art of team playing, projecting both the image and reality of perfect synchronicity.

Two musicians separated at birth? It's an impression backed up by a recent phone interview in which it was darn hard to tell the two voices apart. "We look alike too," quipped Julian (or was it Ron who said that?).

Both musicians sport trim beards, but claims that they look alike are a bit of an exaggeration. And musically, it would also be hyperbole to say that this duo has blended into some Zen-like oneness.

The duo works hard, in fact, to make sure they don't sound like some single-brained, 20-fingered monster playing 12-stringed guitar. "We definitely don't want to sound like four hands controlled by one giant head," said Ron (or at least I think it was Ron).

"We approach [our music] from a chamber perspective, in which every instrument blends, but retains its individual voice," he continued.

It's easy to hear this philosophy manifested on the duo's recent CDs, and it's easy to see that the two guitarists share a similar mission in promoting works of living composers. A case in point is the duo's latest CD, Homages and Evocation (Dorian Recordings, 1996), in which the dates listed next to the composers feature only birth years, not expiration dates.

This weekend's concert will feature not only the 19th century classicism of Fernando Sor, baroque inventions by Handel and Scarlatti, and the romanticism of Chopin and Debussy. The duo will also play pieces by two contemporary writers, Brazilian composer Celso Machado (b. 1953) and British composer Oliver Hunt (b. 1934).

Machado's three-part work is inspired by the arid northeastern part of his homeland, while Hunt's "Release" is a homage to the rhythmic clogging of Riverdance and other Celtic influences. I heartily recommend attending this weekend's concerts, not only for the live show, but as a chance to pick up Homages, which features several very interesting yet accessible works from otherwise underrepresented composers.

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