Romero’s music is a family affair

Photo by ANTON GOIRIPepe Romero
Photo by ANTON GOIRIPepe Romero

Spanish classical guitarist Pepe Romero is an ensemble member of the first family of the guitar, the Romeros, and a renowned soloist.

A resident of Del Mar, Calif., and Granada, Spain, Romero will be in Louisiana this week and next. He’s performing a recital of all-Spanish music Saturday in Baton Rouge and then joining the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra in New Orleans and Covington for performances of the most popular concerto in the guitar repertoire, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concerto de Aranjuez.

The Romeros and their guitar quartet, which for decades featured Pepe, his brothers Celin and Angel and the siblings’ late father, Celedonio, are especially identified with Rodrigo, the blind, profusely honored Spanish composer who died at 97 in 1999.

The Romeros collaborated with Rodrigo often, premiering three of the five guitar concertos he wrote, including his final work for guitar and orchestra, 1982’s Concierto para una Fiesta.

“Not only was our relationship with him in music fantastic, but he was very close to us, a member of the family,” Romero said as the Romero clan gathered at his California home to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“Rodrigo spent a lot of time here, in this house,” Romero fondly recalled. “He would play the piano. My mother would play the castanets. He would compose here.”

Romero, the middle son of Celedonio and Angelita Romero, appears prominently in documentary, Shadows and Light: Joaquin Rodrigo at 90.

“He was a humble, gentle, beautiful person,” the guitarist said. “And he had a great sense of humor.”

Despite Rodrigo’s blindness, his music is vividly evocative of colorful Spanish locales. Romero gives credit for this remarkable quality in the composer’s music to Rodrigo’s wife, Turkish pianist and poet Victoria Kamhi.

“They met in Paris when he was studying Paul Dukas,” he said. “She dedicated her life, in the most poetic and beautiful way, to telling Rodrigo everything that was around them. She narrated life as it was unfolding, describing people, places, things to him. She became his eyes.”

Prior to playing the Concerto de Aranjuez with the Louisiana Philharmonic, Romero will play Rodrigo music for solo guitar in Baton Rouge as well as music composed by another of the Romero family’s collaborators, Federico Moreno Torroba.

“He also was a very close friend of ours and he and Rodrigo were very close friends,” the guitarist said.

Romero’s Baton Rouge concert will also feature music by his first and only guitar teacher, his father, Celedonio Romero. March 2 will be the 100th anniversary of the Romero family patriarch’s birth. Pepe Romero is honoring his father, who died in 1996 at 83, throughout the 2012-2013 concert season.

“Every time that I have a guitar in my hands, I feel his presence,” the guitarist said. “I am grateful for all the gifts he gave me and continues to give to me.”

Romero cannot imagine himself playing any instrument other than the guitar.

“No, because I feel that I was born with a guitar. I fell in love with my father’s playing when I was in the womb. My brothers are the same way.”

Maestro of the guitar though the 68-year-old Romero has been since his youth, the instrument continues to reveal its mysteries to him.

“The guitar and myself, it’s like we have a marriage or a beautiful love affair,” he explained. “It always brings new joys.”

For his Louisiana concerts, Romero will be playing a guitar built by his son, Pepe Romero Jr.

“He’s a world-renowned luthier,” Romero said. “Imagine my incredible joy, walking on the stage with an instrument that my son has built.”

Romero Jr. has built more than 200 guitars. He has a waiting list of two to three years for each new instrument he makes.

“My father died before my son built a single instrument, but he had a feeling, or premonition, that Little Pepe, as we call him, would be a guitar maker,” Romero said.

“When my father passed away, Pepe, who was very close to his grandfather, decided to build a guitar as a tribute to him. And when he built his first guitar, he fell in love with the process and has not stopped since. He’s a devoted, hard worker. And every instrument he makes is dedicated, on the label, to his grandfather.”