Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the February 28,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Pepe Romero’s Royal Guitar
When guitarist Pepe Romero was 13 years old, his father
Celidonio, the esteemed guitarist, whose international career was
stymied by the restrictions of Franco’s Spain, finally succeeded in
bringing his family to the United States. Last week Pepe was in Madrid
to perform in the new Spain, where idealism and free artistic
are part of the atmosphere. Ironically, he was not much more available
in the Spain of parliamentary democracy than his father was under
the dictatorship. Attempts to reach his cell phone brought only the
message in Spanish, "This number is not available at the moment.
Please try your call again later."
Pepe Romero appears, along with pianist Lionel Morales, as soloist
with the National Orchestra of Spain in an all-Spanish program at
New Brunswick’s State Theatre at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 3. Rafael
Fruhbeck de Burgos, director emeritus of the National Orchestra of
Spain, and currently music director of the Radio Symphony Orchestra
of Berlin, conducts. Romero solos in Joaquin Rodrigo’s "Concierto
de Aranjuez," which pays homage to the extensive shady royal
in the town 35 miles south of Madrid.
Pepe Romero was born in 1944 in Malaga, the second son of Celedonio
and Angelita Romero. Father Celedonio was already a celebrated
at the time. By the time Celidonio died in San Diego in 1996 at age
83 he was recognized as having put the classical guitar on the musical
map. He composed more than 100 works for classical guitar, including
10 concertos, and developed a method for teaching classical guitar
that is widely used in the universities of North America and Europe.
Composer Joaquin Rodrigo says of Celidonio’s tension-free approach
to the instrument, "He has developed the technique of the guitar
by making what is difficult easy." He taught all three of his
sons, Celin, Pepe, and Angel guitar beginning when they were two or
The narrow escapes of the indomitable Celidonio are worthy of
as a film. His debut in Madrid was set for the very day in July, 1936,
when Franco flew from Morocco to Spain to overturn the republican
government. A member of the liberal cafe circle that included Salvador
Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca, Celidonio abandoned his stage career
and entertained Republican troops throughout Spain for a fee of one
loaf of bread per concert. Captured in Malaga, he was freed by the
intervention of Franco’s military governor, who had heard him perform
and respected his musicianship. After the Civil War ended in 1939,
Celidonio was permitted to perform freely in Spain, but his
abroad were severely restricted. During the worst periods he and his
wife ate grass and orange and potato peels.
In 1954 the Romeros obtained a visa to enter the United States, but
it took three more years for permission to leave Spain. Finally, in
1957, permission was granted by a guitar-loving high government
who acted on Celidonio’s pretext that he and his family were going
to Portugal to visit an ailing family member. Putting down roots for
his family in southern California, Celidonio created a guitar quartet
with his three sons and established a mecca for aspiring guitar
The quartet’s first tour of the United States took place in 1961,
when Pepe was 17. Appropriately, the Romeros became known as the
family of the guitar."
Mother Angelita was a singer and stage actress. She taught the boys
reading, writing, and literature. When Pepe was a child she dictated
the entire text of Cervantes’ "Don Quixote" to him; she kept
his hand-written copy as a treasured possession. A castenet virtuoso,
she attracted well-known Spanish composers to write compositions for
her. She often joined her family in encores at their concerts, adding
her castenets to their guitars. About her Pepe said, "When we
are next to you, there is nothing unreachable."
The Romero family has proved to be a musical dynasty. Celin’s son
Celino and Angel’s son Lito have appeared on stage playing guitar
with the older two generations. Two of Pepe’s children are active
in music. Son Pepe, Jr. builds guitars, which have been used in
by his uncles and his father. Pepe’s daughter Angelina, a pianist,
is the first Romero child not to play guitar.
For Pepe performing on guitar is an all-encompassing act. "When
you play music," he told Dirk Sutro of San Diego Magazine, "if
you truly surrender your ego and your self, you lose the awareness
of your own body, and your body becomes the body of the sound. You
perceive your own person as being inside the tone, inside the sound,
and of course the audience is also inside the tone, so you are really
one, and it’s very difficult for me to know where I end and the public
begins. I feel a real togetherness and a real oneness, bonded by the
tone, by the actual physical vibration of the sound. And this is a
Romero’s discography includes some 50 recordings. His taste for
is low tech. He shuns the recording studio and favors the Mission
San Luis Rey in Oceanside, near San Diego, where he records live in
order to preserve the sonic ambiance of the space. "It’s the
between drinking real orange juice freshly squeezed right out of an
orange, or reconstituted with all the vitamins added and the sugar
added and the color added. Because in making a recording, it’s not
just notes… It’s the feeling…at the moment …, and unless [the
player] can hear the vibrations…the music is not going to have the
A member of the faculty at the University of Southern California,
Romero strives to let students know that the satisfactions of playing
guitar lie in the act of playing, not in any external benefits.
order to study with me, a student must understand that he may never
make a penny out of it," he told Paul Bernstein of the New York
Times Magazine, "So many people now are studying music as you
study law or medicine or accounting — for the purpose of having
a career….You have to play for the moment and for the beauty
for the feeling it brings you. And then, if other people enjoy
to what you have, you become a concert player."
— Elaine Strauss
New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Featured soloists with the National
of Spain. $25 to $45. Saturday, March 3, 8 p.m.
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