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

expression

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

gardens

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

guitarist

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

three.

The narrow escapes of the indomitable Celidonio are worthy of

treatment

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

appearances

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

official

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

players.

The quartet’s first tour of the United States took place in 1961,

when Pepe was 17. Appropriately, the Romeros became known as the

"royal

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

performance

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

wonderful experience."

Romero’s discography includes some 50 recordings. His taste for

recording

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

difference

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

same feeling."

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.

"In

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

exclusively,

for the feeling it brings you. And then, if other people enjoy

listening

to what you have, you become a concert player."

— Elaine Strauss

Pepe Romero, State Theater, 15 Livingston Avenue,

New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. Featured soloists with the National

Orchestra

of Spain. $25 to $45. Saturday, March 3, 8 p.m.


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