Mythical strings

Once upon a time there was a magnificent family of guitarists known as the Romeros. The patriarch, Celedonio, composed music in addition to teaching and playing guitar to and with his sons: Celin, Pepe and Angel. The quartet became famous throughout Spain and the world, and composers like Joaquín Rodrigo and Federico Moreno Torroba wrote works specifically for them. Ándres Segovia was a family friend, occasionally dropping by the house in Málaga for an evening of playing and musical fellowship that surely must qualify as legendary, if not passing completely into the realm of guitar mythology.

This was also the era of Generalissimo Franco and repressive, fascist rule in Spain. Many Spanish artists were leaving the country at that time and the Romeros joined the stream of immigrants who ended up in the United States, transferring their household to southern California. The liberty to move and speak as one wished was a "wonderful experience," according to Pepe Romero, "The freedom, the opportunities, the friendliness of the people, . . . we really enjoyed it."

If you fast-forward toward the end of the millennium, many things have changed. Pepe and Angel Romero have substantial solo careers of their own, both of them touring and recording for more than half the year. Celedonio, the family patron, died in 1996, leaving a huge gap in the lives of the brothers and of guitar aficionados. But there is still a magnificent family of guitarists known as the Romeros. The quartet continues onward with a new generation of performers -- Pepe's nephews -- joining the family enterprise and someday Pepe's son will probably enroll in the ensemble too.

All of this brings us to Pepe Romero himself, perhaps the finest classical guitarist living today. Pepe has been playing professionally since he was 7 years old, making his first appearance onstage with his father in a joint concert. Now in his mid-50s, he has recorded well over 50 albums as a soloist or as a member of the Romeros, including his first project -- a disc called "Flamenco, Fenómeno!" -- when he was 15 years old. Major composers for his instrument are familiar with his talents and have helped broaden the repertoire with a whole host of new works that Pepe has premiered. When not on the road, he spends some of his free time back home in Del Mar (near San Diego), Calif., or at his other domicile in Málaga, Spain. He talked to Orlando Weekly from his home in Spain.

OW: How do you plan the programs that you will be playing, or do the orchestras come to you and ask you to play, for instance, Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez"?

PR: With concertos you have a certain repertoire that you offer to the orchestras, and they choose whether they want to play a concerto by Rodrigo, a concerto by my father, a concerto by Torroba, Giuliani or Morton Gould, or whomever it is that you are offering out of your repertoire.

OW: But when you do a solo recital ...

PR: Then I choose to offer those works that inspire me and that I really love to play. I only play music that I love to play.

OW: Is that pretty much the same way you approach any new album that you record?

PR: Yes. An album is very much like a recital. You work it out first with the repertoire people from the record company. First we arrive at a concept, and then we work from there.

OW: What was your last album?

PR: That was "Songs My Father Taught Me" and that was a tribute to the relationship that my father had to his teaching (me) -- from the time I was a baby, a child, to the moment he left his body -- which was in my heart. He was a very moving man. So I chose the pieces that I worked with him early on and that I went back to work with him in the last year of his life, pieces that were very special to him and that he really loved and that he played throughout his entire life.

OW: Have you commissioned any new works specifically for yourself?

PR: Yes. The last work by the maestro (Rodrigo, who died in July 1999), the "Concierto para una Fiesta," was commissioned for me. I've just commissioned a concerto for four guitars by (Lorenzo) Palomo, a Spanish composer living in Germany.

OW: Are you doing any teaching now or working with any master classes?

PR: I just finished teaching a group at the International Guitar Festival, but the next master class, I believe, will be when I teach over there `Florida`.

Scroll to read more Music Stories + Interviews articles


Join Orlando Weekly Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.