The Dallas Morning News


The Dallas Morning News' July 7 obituary on the great Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo, didn't mention that the composer of the legendary Concierto de Aranjuez has two Texas connections, including a Dallas-Fort Worth one.

In 1966, guitarist Celedonio Romero and Victor Alessandro, music director of the San Antonio Symphony, commissioned Rodrigo - a close friend of the Romero family - to compose a piece for the Romeros Quartet. The result was the Concierto Andaluz for four guitars and orchestra, which the San Antonio Symphony world-premiered with the Romeros on Nov. 18, 1967, with whom they also made the first recording. The piece has since been performed hundreds of times around the world, including by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

In 1982, at the suggestion of their friend, guitarist Pepe Romero, Carol and William McKay of Forth Worth commissioned Rodrigo to compose a piece to mark the occasion of their two daughters' debutante ball. The Concierto para una fiesta was to be Rodrigo's final guitar concerto. Pepe Romero gave its world premiere at the McKay party on March 6, 1983, with members of the Forst Worth Symphony, John Giordano conducting. Mr. Romero also recorded it on the Philips label with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and conductor Sir Neville Marriner. Carol McKay, by the way, recently presented the original score to the Romero family.

Laurel Ornish, Dallas


San Francisco Chronicle


The crystal-clear tone and dexterous technique of guitarist Pepe Romero delighted a large audience in Herbst Theatre Saturday night. The concert was the final event in the series of guitar recitals presented by San Francisoc Performances and the D'Addario Foundation. In a program of familiar pieces ranging from the 16th century to more recent times, Romero provided his listeners with an unbroken stream of graceful melodies and delicately articulgated musical textures.

Dashing off scales and melodic figures with impressive panache, be brought a winning technical virtuosity to everything he played. If his performances often seemed to draw on a narrow range of dynamics or instrumental colors, this limitation interfered only a little with the evening's enjoyment.

From the matched pair of 16th century Fantasias by Luis Milian and Alonso de Muadarra that opened the program, through the concluding trio of Albeniz transcriptions and on into the welcome encore of Tárrega's Recuredos de la Alhambra, Romero's playing was consistently engaging. A blend of elegance and formal vigor enlivened Fernando Sor's Sonata in C, as well as Mauro Giuliani's wonderfully extroverted Variations on I bin a Kohlbauern Bub.

But the best parts of the recital were the works that combined the showmanship with a moody introspection, such as Agustin Barrios Mangore's stately La Catedral, which concluded the first half, or a lovely, florid waltz by the same composer. Leading off the second half with a beautiful blend of rhythmic vitality and expressiveness was the Suite Castellano of Federico Moreno Torroba.

- Joshua Kosman, Chronicle Staff Critic


San Diego Magazine


It's only a tiny patio garden behind his Del Mar townhouse, but as Pepe Romero apeaks lovingly about his music, the space becomes a fantastic universe of colors, forms, and possibilities. Romero has this effect on people.

"When you play music," says the renowned classical and flamenco guitarist as a blue sky deepens, green leaves grow greener and leaf shadows dance on the garden wall, "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. It's very difficult to explain."

On a quiet afternoon, we are sitting at a table in Romero's garden. He has lived in the U.S. since 1957, when his family fled Franco's fascist Spain, but he retains a charming accent that includes the R's rolled as delicately as the fine Cuban cigars he favors.

Romero is home from his world travels. Soon, he'll tour Europe again and record a new CD in Amsterdam, the latest in a chain of more than 50 recordings. The second son of guitarist Celedonio Romero, Pepe, who turns 50 next month, is part of a family of musical masters who all ended up in Del Mar. Brothers Celin and Angel are also guitar virtuosos, Pepe Romero's youngest child Pepe, Jr., 16, plays too, and Romero says his grandson, not even a year old, is already showing signs of great musical potential.

"Whenever I pick up the guitar he goes crazy, so I think there's a good chance he will play," Romero says.

Although all four Romero men are prominent guitarists, Pepe Romero is perhaps best known. His music weeps and bleeds with raw emotions of an intensity few musicians attain, as if his heart and soul are vibrating out through the strings to directly alter your own emotions. Notes waver achingly, subtle surges in tempo pick up your pulse and Romero renders heartbreaking melodies as clear as fine crystal.

His talents are in demand world-wide and he has traveled to many countries, but Romero remains devoted to Del Mar, although he also has a home in his native Málaga, Spain.

"The weather, the feeling of relaxation, the ocean, everything, this area is paradise," he says. His brother Celin "discovered" this place for the family.

"We were playing with the San Diego Symphony, the premiere of a concerto written for us and the symphony, and on the way back home - we were living in Los Angeles - Celin just exited off the freeway in Del Mar Heights and fell in love with the area. He saw a house for sale and bought it that day. I met him that evening in Los Angeles, where Celin and I used to have adjoining backyards, to the next day I came with him and I looked around and I bought another house, then my father and Angel followed shortly and we have been enjoying the area ever since."

The San Diego area also has one of his favorite places to record - not a studio, but Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside.

"The sound of the mission is one of the best in the world!" says Romero, whose recording philosophy is the exact opposite of contemporary methods that use electronics to create the illusion of space and depth. Instead of going to a neutral, sound-dampened studio where engineers fine tune the sound after recording, Romero goes in search of rooms with the proper ambiance, then records live on location with a microphone that captures the full sound of the room.

"Some years ago we were thinking of recording in San Diego and Monsignor Spain, who was pastor at the Catholic church in Solana Beach, took us to all the different churches in the county, and I just absolutely fell in love with the sound of the old mission.

"The only problem is the traffic, it isn't sound proof to the outside. So when record we have to do it very late at night, which is actually kind of fun. The last time was a recital program of four guitars with my father, brother Celin and my nephew."

And, Romero says, he can easily tell the difference between such authentic atmosphere and the kind that's added with technology.

"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 feelings. It's the feeling the player feels at the moment he's doing it, and unless he can hear the vibrations of the sound, and unless he can feel those vibrations, the music is not going to have the same feeling."

Obviously feelings are key to Romero's art, and for February it seemed fitting to ask about his favorite romantic music.

"If you want guitar music and you want mine, I would say the most romantic are the collections of Spanish romantic composers, and also the collection of Latin American music, a recording called 'La Paloma'.

"But great romantic recordings are also Rubinstein's performance of Chopin's nocturnes, 'The Four Last Songs' by Strauss, and a recording of Jessye Norman."

Romero is sort of a curator of classical music, working with musicologists to discover long forgotten romantic music from the early 1800s, then recording it for the first time ever.

"What happened to the guitar literature after the early part of the romantic period, the guitar was tremendously popular and great compositions were written for it, then with the birth of the piano and the creation of the big symphony orchestra, the piano replaced the guitar as the home instrument and a lot of those compositions were fogotten."

American and European musicologists have helped Romero revive music by composers such as Fernando Sor, Mauro Giuliani, Francesco Molino, Fernando Carulli and Luigi Boccherini, and contemporary composers including Joaquin Rodrigo, Paul Chihara and Lorenzo Palomo have written pieces especially for him.

Talking with Romero, you sense he would be right at home in the past, a suspicion confirmed when he is asked to name his favorite recordings of all time. He steps inside to spin an old vinyl disc - flamenco from the '20s or '30s - on a vintage hand-cranked player.

"I would prefer old, old records made completely acoustically (as opposed to digitally)," he explains. "I would prefer horses rather than cars, and boats rather than airplanes. I think that feeling for a more peaceful life, a nostalgia for peacefulness that goes with a less so-called technological improvement, is what has driven me into playing classical guitar."

- Dirk Sutro


New York Times Magazine


Four decates ago, under the crystal chandeliers of Madrid's elegant Real Conservatorio Superior de la Musica auditorium, a young guitarist of regal bearing began a program of classical compositions. During a pause between numbers, a small boy in the audience escaped from his mother's arms, climbed onto the platform, removed Celedonio Romero's footstool and, without a word, sat down on it. Undaunted, Romero simply crossed his legs to support his instrument and began his next number. When the concert was over, the boy joined in the audience's enthusiastic applause. The guitarists took the child's hand and the two of them walked off together.

"How can mothers bring their children to concerts?" asked an impresario from Barcelona as he lunched with Romero at a restaurant the next day. The guitarist made no comment, but invited the impresario home to meet his family.

"I'd like you to meet me son, Celin," Romero said, bringing forward the child who had climbed onto the stage. The impresario laughed, and later that afternoon, 3-year-old Celin received a generous delivery of toys. In the 40 years since, Celin - like his brothers, Pepe and Angel - have frequently joined his father on stage, no longer as a spectator but as a performer.

By the time the Romeros immigrated to the United States, they were already being called "the royal family of the guitar." Today, one of them is probably the best classical guitarists in America. The only question is which one?

Collectively, they are the only classical guitar quartet of real stature in the world today; in fact, they virtually invented the format with their transcriptions of Vivaldi, Bach and Telemann and the original works for quartet dedicated to them by, among others, the Spanish composers Joaquin Rodrigo and Federico Moreno Torroba.

The Romeros also perform and record as soloists, in duos and with symphony orchestras. As soloists, they stand in the first rank of the post-Segovia generation that includes such artists as John Williams and Julian Break of Great Britain, Oscar Ghiglia of Italy and Alexandre Lagoya of France, Alirio Diaz of Venezuela, Narciso Yepes of Spain. The Romeros play an extraordinary number of concerts - 136 are scheduled this year, 60 of them in Europe. By way of comparison, the most popular pianists on the roster of Columbia Artists (the Romeros' management) give 90 concerts a year. Last summer, the quartet played in a virtuoso series at the 17,500-seat Hollywood Bowl. (Other guest stars included the violinist Itchak Perfman, the flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, and the New York Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta conducting.) The Romeros' recording of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto Andaluz," with Neville Marriner conducting the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields chamber orchestra, was voted 1980 Record of the Year by readers of Audio Magazine, a German publication. An earlier version of the same concerto, with the San Antonio Symphony, is the Romeros' most popular record, with sales of more than 10,000 - a repectable figure for a classical recording.

In May of this year, Celedonio Romero, now an American citizen, was awarded one of the highest honors the King of Spain can bestow on a divilian, the Cross Of The Order of Isabel la Católica. Earlier, the four Romeros were honored in their adopted country with invitations to play at two state dinners at the White House.

The Romeros' popularity is part of a general renaissance the classical guitar has experienced, beginning early in the 20th century and reaching its peak over the last two decades. Classical guitarists, and the Romeros in particular, have appeared with all the major symphony orchestras. Prominent contemporary composers, such as Morton Gould, William Wafton, Malcolm Arnold and the late Benjamin Britten, have written expressly for the instrument. When the National Assocation of Schools of Music surveyed American college guitar programs leading to a bachelor's or master's degree in 1970, they found only 15; in 1980, Guitar Player magazine reported the cound was up to 510, with the overwhelming majority emphasizing classical guitar. With a new generation of musicians emerging from these schools, the guitar may be on the verve of full acceptance as a classical instrument and not just a mainstay of folk and rock music.

Although Celedonio Romero was highly respected in Spain for his earliest years as a performer, he was virtually unknown in the rest of the world for a long time because the Franco Government refused to let him accept engagements abroad. Contracts for Paris and London concerts that might have launched an international career during the 1940's lie moldering in his desk to this day. Frustrated by the opportunities he was forced to pass up and troubled by the suffocating political climate, Celedonio decided in the early 1950's that it was time for him and his family to leave.

They quietly approached the American Embassy in Madrid in 1954, Celedonio resounds in Spanish. With the help of an American friend who signed the all-important affidavid of sponsorship, the Romeros were able to obtain a visa four years later, but they still lacked permission to leave Spain. However, through a high Government official who was a guitar lover and an acquaintance of several years, Celedonio managed to obtain a permit to his family to visit Portugal, on the pretext of visiting his wife's ailing sister. The minister seemed to suspect something, but chose to look the other way once he asked the obligatory question: You will return? "Of course," answered Celedonio.

When the family settled in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1958, Ce;on. then 18. started thinking about a career of his own. While serving a six-month hitch in the United States Army reserve, he met a young promoter willing to underwrite an American tour. But his strong family instincts would not allow Celin to take advantage of the opportunity for himself alone. "I never wanted to pass my father," he says. "And I loved my brothers. Even then they were great guitarists. I felt it was totally unfair for one to take off artistically more than the others."

The quartet was the logical solution. In fact, admits, Celin, "the cute thing of a father and three sons" probably contributed to the Romero's initial success. Solo guitarists, other than Andres Segovia, had not yet made a niche for themselves in the American market. The popularity of folk music had just began to spart interest in the guitar, as had flamenco, the fiery, rhythmic and often improvised Spanish folk music that was often confused with the classical repertory in the American public's mind. That interest, plus the bargain appeal of four for the price of one, helped commercially. The Romeros' first American tour, in 1961, was well received. Within two months of their appearance at Town Hall, the quartet returned to New York to give another concert, this time at Carnegie Hall, and to appear of "The Ed Sullvian Show" on television. A recording contract soon followed. Their career was launched.


New York Times


Two guitarists who are copiously represented on records and have sizable followings gave recitals this week on consecutive evenings. Their performances suggested the diversity of interpretive and technical approaches that prevails among the instruments' exponents.

Pepe Romero's performance on Wednesday evening was not only more spontaneous and virtuosic, but also more deply considered. He soared through the quick passage work in Milan and Mudarra's Fantasias without sacrificing the music's elegance, and gave beautifully ornamented, lively accounts of nine Gaspar Sanz dances.

His coloration was subtle enough to capture the mysterious haze that opens both the Turina Sonata and the Rodrigo's Invocation y Danza, yet vivid enough to suggest both orchestral power and vocal lyricism in Tárrega's Fantasy on Themes From La Traviata.

There were a few unbashed show pieces, Tárrega's Gran Jota is a catalogue of effects (including a military drum roll, achieved by quickly strumming muted strings), and Mr. Romero reveled in it. His most astonishing offering, though, was a Bulerias by the flamenco guitarist Sabicas, which he played as an encore. The received wisdom - put about by Segovia, actually - is that classic guitarists cannot play flamenco properly. But Mr. Romero's sizzling, detailed performance fully captured the form's improvisatory, fiery spirit.

- Allan Kozinn


Los Angeles Times


Pepe Romero makes his guitar talk to itself. The 50 year-old Spanish musician heard Thursday night at Ambassador Auditorium never just plays a piece, never just makes it sing. He creates a conversation with it, a conversation between the musical parts, a dialogue on one instrument.

Though much of his repertory Thursday was virtuosic, his playing gave it an interior feel. Quick notes, impeccably dispatched, were plentiful, to be sure, but they were rendered more like fleeting thoughts than the main order of business.

In a program of mostly Spanish music short works by Sor, Sanz, Turina, Rodrigo, Torroba, Brouwer and others, Romero revealed a fluidity of tempo that perhaps only a native speaker can achieve. Few musicians can be this flexible with the unwinding of a piece and yet never sound self-indulgent. He seems to know exactly where an emphasis lies, how long to pause, where to push, when to float poetically. This music is Shakespeare, not just notes on a page.

And, with the help of tasteful amplification, Romero draws you into that music. You find yourself leaning forward, breathing steadily and he'll suddenly hammer a fortissimo chord, an ambush.

A list of his technical arsenal would be catalogue-length, most of it could be heard in his father's dazzling "Suite Andaluza", but Romero is not a flashy musician. He smiles and then plays with great concentration, and uses his means reasonably for ullumination.

Perhaps he makes some of this music sound greater than it is, but that's hard to say. His introspective, detailed approach reveals textural complexities, voicings, colors, cross-references and footnotes that the composers may only have realized. At any rate, it works.

There were three encores, the first of which, Tárrega's "Recuerdos de la Alhambra," he offered as "a prayer to save this building."

- Timonthy Mangan



FEBRUARY 8, 2007

The Old-World elegance of the Los Angeles Millennium Biltmore Hotel was well-suited for this year's GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music honoring the Romeros. Originated in Spain by Celedonio Romero, founder of the Romeros guitar dynasty, the guitar quartet encompasses three generations of Romeros. The year 2008 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Romeros’ guitar quartet.

They are known worldwide as the "The Royal Family of the Guitar," a name earned through their abundant contributions to the classical guitar genre. The Romeros are not only regarded as the inventors of their musical art form, they are also considered the only classical guitar quartet of real stature in the world.

What is remarkable too about the ensemble is how Celedonio Romero, a renowned self-taught soloist, instructed all of his sons at age 2 or 3 in playing guitar. By the time each turned 7, Celin, Pepe and Angel had made their performing debuts in Spain.

Recording Academy President Neil Portnow stated that the honorees' "passion for music and great love of the guitar are also clearly evident in the classroom. From a child's early lessons at his father's side, to countless master classes around the world, the Romeros have demonstrated an enormous commitment to educating the next generation of aspiring musicians. Many of their students have already gone on to become successful concert guitarists and sought-after teachers."

A video documentary at the event told about the family's 1957 immigration to the United States, where the boys performed as teenagers in the Romeros guitar quartet. In 1990, Celin's son, Celino, joined the group. Celedonio Romero passed away in 1996, and Angel's son Lito is in the current lineup.

Also depicted were the Romeros in some of their hundreds of international concerts, which include performances with major U.S. symphony orchestras. In the documentary, footage covered appearances at the White House, the Vatican, on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and in concert for Prince Charles.

All of the Romeros who have been in the quartet over the years were recognized at the GRAMMY Salute To Classical Music, and four generations of the Romero extended family were in attendance.

Robert Aubry Davis — Recording Academy Trustee, host of the nationally syndicated "Millennium Of Music" and XM Satellite Radio classical vocal channel VOX programmer — emceed the event. Davis began by acknowledging the GRAMMY nominees present, among them, triple-threat producer/engineer/mixer Leslie Ann Jones, nominated with Judy Kirschner for Best Engineered Album, Classical, for Látigo by Quartet San Francisco.

Davis also read letters of commemoration for the Romeros. The Consul General of Spain wrote that Romero family patriarch Celedonio "was a fantastically gifted artist [who] delighted millions of people throughout a very long career, a man of integrity who loved this country but never forgot that he was a real Spaniard. His children have inherited both things: artistically, an outstanding talent and technique, [and] as human beings, the integrity and the kindness passed to them by their parents, Celedonio and Angelita."

The Counsel General was not alone in his praise for the Romeros as proponents of the value of music and of family. Portnow commented on the large family's extraordinary closeness. He also applauded the Romeros for their enduring contributions in enriching the repertoire for classical guitar. "The Romeros have premiered or inspired many of the greatest guitar compositions of the 20th century," he said.

In accepting The Recording Academy's President's Merit Award, the Romeros underscored their twin loves of family and the guitar. Celino said, "It's been a dream for me," and he spoke of telling his own son, "You just go with your dream. You just keep practicing and practicing, and one day, it will happen."

"In keeping with the mission of The Recording Academy and our GRAMMY Week festivities, we acknowledge and recognize the achievements of jazz and classical legends who have made significant contributions to their respective musical genres and beyond," said Neil Portnow, President of The Recording Academy. "We are pleased to honor and pay tribute to such innovators whose passion and skills have and will continue to enrich our musical history for many generations."

Previous recipients of the award include Van Cliburn, Marilyn Horne, Isaac Stern, Zubin Mehta, Itzhak Perlman, Mstislav Rostropovich, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Beverly Sills, Kronos Quartet and James Galway.

- Laurel Fishman,


back to top