The soul of the land

For classicist Pepe Romero, it's feelings, not notes

Last February at the Majestic Theatre, Romero played a recital of music from his Noches de Espana, tracing five centuries of Spanish guitar music. He repeated the concert in New York the next day as part of the New York Philhamonic's Spanish music festival. He also played the Meyerson's inaugural guitar concert in 1989, a DSO concert with the quartet, as well as an appearance at the Majestic with the Guitar Summit that featured Romero along with the late jazz guitarist Joe Pass, flamenco guitarist Paco Pena, and folk guitarist Leo Kottke.

In addition to his classical recordings, Romero is unique in that he also has been recording albums of flamenco music--both as a soloist and with the quartet--since he was 9, when he was captured on a pirate recording. This is not the bastardized, Gipsy Kings pop-rock flamenco, but the real thing: flamenco puro, learned listening to the gypsies of his native Mediterranean city of Malaga and modern flamenco masters like the late Sabicas.

Thursday's Dallas Symphony concert is an all-Spanish music program. It also includes a performance by pianist Philippe Entremont of another gigantic piece from the Spanish literature, Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain, along with the Chabrier Espana rhapsody and Ravel's dreaded Bolero.

Does Romero have a special feeling playing Spanish music, and how does he feel about non-Spaniards playing it?

"When we say 'Spanish music' and are talking about the nationalistic period and...somebody like Rodrigo who glorifies his love for Spain in his music," Romero explains, "the more you can experience that passion and that love for the country, its history and people, [the more] you can have a real affinity, and it cannot help but come out in the playing. If you're not from Spain, it doesn't mean you cannot play Spanish music. It just means perhaps you'll have to eat extra Spanish food, drink extra Spanish wine, watch more flamenco, and read more Lorca and Cervantes! If your heart is touched by music, that's what counts."

Romero's performance schedule was severely curtailed because of the sudden illness of his beloved father, Celedonio, Pepe's performing partner for most of his life and his only teacher. The elder Romero--also a prolific composer and poet--passed away in May. On August 17 Pepe gave the world premiere of his father's composition for guitar and orchestra, El Cortijo de don Sancho, a musical fantasy about Don Quixote's sidekick, Sancho Panza.

Romero spent the summer with his mother and family "letting my heart heal," but he did manage to squeeze in some European performances with the Stuttgart Philharmonic doing Aranjuez and his father's composition, Concierto de Malaga, and he gave some solo recitals in Holland. He also was in Atlanta with Los Romeros quartet for the Cultural Olympiad that ran concurrently with the Olympics. The performance took place in Spivey Hall, the site of his premiere of a previously unpublished masterpiece by the Spanish guitarist-composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839).

What was it like being in Atlanta again? "The concerts were great, but I felt very sad walking through Centennial Park thinking about the terrorist act, seeing the incredible amounts of police and trying to comprehend how some people can do such terrible things to other human beings. That, to me, is the antithesis of what music does." The Atlanta recital was the quartet's first since Celedonio's death, and "it was very emotional for me--for all of us." In place of his father was Pepe's nephew, Lito Romero. Lito is cngel's son and a third-generation virtuoso like his cousin Celino. Celino is Celin's son and the fourth member of the quartet.

Shortly after his Dallas concert, Romero will be traveling to Denmark to play the Rodrigo four-guitar concerto. He has several recordings in the works, including duets with brother Celin. In the meantime, he will "keep doing that which I love to do for as long as God graces me with the ability to do it!"

Pepe Romero performs at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center August 29.

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