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Spanish Classical Guitarists The Romeros Perform

Celino Romero is a classical guitarist and member of the Romero dynasty of Spanish classical guitar players.
Celino Romero is a classical guitarist and member of the Romero dynasty of Spanish classical guitar players.
Spanish Classical Guitarists The Romeros Perform
The San Diego Master Chorale is presenting an evening of Latin American and Spanish music with the classical guitar talents of the Romero Duo, tenor Enrique Toral, and pianist Bryan Verhoye. We'll get a taste of those performances here in our These Days studios.

San Diego Master Chorale's "Amigos en Concierto" takes place Saturday night, June 19th at 8pm at Copley Symphony Hall. To get tickets go to the San Diego Master Chorale website or call the Copley Symphony Hall Box Office at 619-235-0804.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Some of the most celebrated members of the San Diego musical community are all members of the same family. Los Romeros have brought us three generations of classical guitar masters. As performers in the Romero Quartet, they've been referred to as the ‘Royal Family of the Guitar.’ Today, we're happy to welcome the two youngest members of that quartet, Lito and Celino Romero, along with tenor Enrique Toral and pianist Bryan Verhoye, to get a preview of a concert by the San Diego Master Chorale that will celebrate the music of Latin America and Spain. And let’s begin with music from the Romero duo, Lito and Celino Romero. What are you going to be playing for us?

CELINO ROMERO (Guitarist): We are going to play “Zapateado” by our grandfather, Celedonio Romero.


CAVANAUGH: Please do.

(audio of the Romero duo playing “Zapateado”)

CAVANAUGH: That’s Lito and Celino Romero performing for us. It’s so good to see you both. Thank you for being here.

LITO ROMERO (Guitarist): Thank you for having us. It’s great.

C. ROMERO: It’s great to be here again.


CAVANAUGH: Now tell us a little bit more about this piece that was composed by your grandfather.

C. ROMERO: This piece was originally part of our grandfather’s “Suite Andaluza,” which consists of four piece, four movements: Alegrias, Tango, and then Zapateado and actually the last one is his Fantasia but he originally – So it was written for solo guitar in about what, Lito, about how many years…

L. ROMERO: Two years before he passed away.

C. ROMERO: Before he passed away, he thought there was – First of all, there was too many Romeros so gotta make it another guitar part. Maybe he should’ve made it four or five guitar parts but he added a second guitar part to that and it just works out beautifully. We love playing it and it’s like one of those pieces that now the two of us play in duo, you know, as much as we do the Malaguenas.

CAVANAUGH: Right. I can’t – In watching it and in hearing that piece, you can almost tell it was written by someone who was a guitarist because it uses all of the guitar down to the very, very end of the strings.

C. ROMERO: Definitely. He was really a pioneer with all the, you know, inventing all these kinds of techniques, too.

L. ROMERO: Yeah, he would call it like all the, you know, tapping. He’d like to say, I like to put a little pepper on the piece after.

C. ROMERO: Spice it up.

L. ROMERO: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great. Now you, the Romeros, are known for preferring to announce what they’re going to be playing before – instead of having it in a program or anything like that. Why is that?

L. ROMERO: We just – When it comes down to it, sometimes, you know, we just want to have the freedom to change something or how ever we’re feeling and how we want to express it that evening. So, we kind of keep that until the last minute.

CAVANAUGH: You don’t want to be locked into something…

L. ROMERO: Right.

C. ROMERO: No, but, I mean, normally, you know, it’s not always like that.

L. ROMERO: No, it’s not always.

C. ROMERO: But we figured, you know, we gave an option and, I don’t know, it is nice. A lot of people, especially our home crowd here, San Diego, like to hear a little bit, you know, coming from us rather than just reading it so it – maybe it adds a little more pepper.

CAVANAUGH: It does add pepper because I’ve been at concerts where you announce and a cry goes up from…

C. ROMERO: Yeah, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …the audience, hooray. That’s wonderful. Now as, of course, you’re both sons of the original Romero Quartet, are carrying on the family dynasty, can you give us an update on what everyone is doing? What all the Romeros are doing?

L. ROMERO: Well, when my grandfather – Well, when my father left, Angel, Celino came into the Quartet in ninety…

C. ROMERO: 1990-1991.

L. ROMERO: …1991. And then when my grandfather was ill, I came in in 1995, and ever since then the formula has been – now consists of my uncles, Celine and Pepe, Celino’s father, Celine, and myself and Celino.

C. ROMERO: And Angel actually, Lito’s father, he conducts. He’s conducting a lot now and he plays solo and actually we played maybe, what, three or four concerts as a quintet…


C. ROMERO: …and that…


C. ROMERO: Uh-huh. That’s a lot of pepper now, right? But…

L. ROMERO: No, that’s fine.

C. ROMERO: …yeah, you know, everybody between duo, solos, everybody kind of just travels around. But, you know…

L. ROMERO: The most fun is all getting together.

C. ROMERO: Yeah. I mean, looking around to the left and right and seeing Dad, uncle, and it just everybody gets competitive with each other. It’s a blast.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, there’s a lot been written about the fact that it’s so unusual for guitar virtuosity to be handed down through generations in one family. Do you have any speculation as to why that is in your family?

L. ROMERO: Well, we started just from young. You know, we had guitars all over, Celino and I, and just seeing the guitar and, you know, they did involve us a lot, taking us on tour. And, really, I think, it was just really embedded and…

C. ROMERO: Yeah.

L. ROMERO: …Celino and I would be from the side of the stage, you know, everywhere throughout the United States, especially when we were kids touring. And I think it just got really into us and we just saw the love that our family had for it, just became part of us.

C. ROMERO: You know, my father used to tell me, you have been practicing since you were in your crib because he would, every night, would play the guitar as I was falling, you know, I was a baby sleeping all the time, but he says, that’s where it starts right there. And, of course, as Lito said, you know, embeds – it gets embedded in you as you’re touring along. You know, we would take a month off of school. You can’t do that now with all the homework that kids have…

CAVANAUGH: That’s true.

C. ROMERO: …but we learned a lot about, you know, everything, you know, not just music, so it was really – And we’re still learning. Every day we learn, and I don’t think – with music, I think you’re learning until the day you die.

CAVANAUGH: Was there ever a time that you rebelled and said, you know, I just don’t want to play the guitar.

L. ROMERO: Well, we were – my – Celino and I were really involved in sports all throughout high school with soccer and baseball and that kind of thing. But after high school, we, I think, really made a decision to really go that way.

C. ROMERO: Notice it wasn’t like football, volleyball, basketball.

L. ROMERO: Yeah, we…

C. ROMERO: So we had to stay away from the sports that use a lot of your hands.

L. ROMERO: Yeah.

C. ROMERO: But, no, we – There were moments. I’ll say – I’ll speak for myself, like in high school, you know, I think everybody goes through, at a certain age, a time in their life where they’re not sure what they want. I mean, I knew the guitar was there but I just – it was seeing the older guys play, it was impossible for me. I could just – I mean, it was my dream and it was Lito’s dream, so I – there was a point where I just almost just said forget it. Like there’s no way. You know, go practice and all of a sudden the hands weren’t feeling good and previous day they were feeling great and you start getting, you know, discouraged a lot. But that lasted maybe a year and then the love hit again and I just – I figured that it was all – If I love it and just – You know, you got to work your butt off all the time and there was like 15 hours a day the two of us were working when we were in the quartet, so put our – put our time in and I think it’s paid off.

CAVANAUGH: Before I introduce your amigos in this concert…

L. ROMERO: Yeah.

C. ROMERO: See – yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …that you’re performing in, I’m interested in the way you select your music. I’ve heard you do transcriptions of Bach and other composers. Is there anything that you come up against and you say, you know, this just won’t work for four guitars or two guitars.

L. ROMERO: Well, the arrangements and the things that we do, like you said, we did – we do Bach. We just did a very popular album for Sony last year which was the “Canon” and…

C. ROMERO: Yeah.

L. ROMERO: …and…


L. ROMERO: …and a bunch of things like that which are really fun and, you know, the people identify with those, you know, tunes very, very – and so it makes for a nice album. But we just pick our – We get together at the house and between my uncles and Celino and I, we all have input and whatever we’re thinking about we, you know, suggest and see how it could apply to the four.

C. ROMERO: Yeah, I mean, listening to a lot of great recordings, you could tell right away, you know, all the different voices which, okay, that’s my dad’s part. Listen to that. And then, you know, and so on. So – But we play – We’re doing a lot more, like Lito said, like new popular stuff along with – and actually now we just got a contract with Deutsche Grammophon. We’re doing a three CD recording, and the Romeros are doing our first Christmas CD.


C. ROMERO: Never been done after a hundred and something records, so there’s some really cool arrangements. Like we have a great one, kind of a jazzy version of “Silent Night.” It’s going to be really nice.

L. ROMERO: A lot of fun.

C. ROMERO: Yeah, a lot of fun.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that’s something to look forward to.

C. ROMERO: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Do a lot of composers compose music for the quartet?

L. ROMERO: Oh, absolutely.


L. ROMERO: Going back from before we were born with Rodrigo and…

C. ROMERO: Yeah…

L. ROMERO/C. ROMERO: …Torroba…

C. ROMERO: …and Rodrigo.

L. ROMERO: And Palomo. A lot of Spanish composers, obviously, because, you know, they’re…

C. ROMERO: Yeah.

L. ROMERO: …a lot of friends of the family. But American composers and, yeah, a lot of…

C. ROMERO: Martin Gould, one of the…

L. ROMERO: Martin Gould.

C. ROMERO: …great…


C. ROMERO: …composers. And then, you know, a lot of, you know, traveling around, different countries in the world, you know, you have composers giving you their, you know, compositions for, you know, one, two, three, four guitars and so there’s a lot of stacks of music we have in our houses that have never even been looked at. They’re probably genius…


C. ROMERO: …and I’m sure someday we’ll get to those.

CAVANAUGH: How – I know that you don’t want to lock yourselves into anything but how have you made your selections for this concert that you’re doing on Saturday?

L. ROMERO: Well, we just – between Celino and I, you know, we have a repertoire that – and also that we’ve worked on recently and stuff, so the things that would be appropriate for this, you know, we went down the list and things that we really enjoy that would apply to the Latin and Spanish concert of that evening, “Amigos en Concierto,” which, by the way, will be on the 19th, Saturday night.

CAVANAUGH: It certainly will, at Copley Symphony Hall.

L. ROMERO: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: And you’ll be joined by tenor Enrique Toral. And good morning, Enrique. Thanks for being here.

ENRIQUE TORAL (Tenor): Good morning, Maureen. Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: You’ll be singing a selection from a zarzuela. What is a zarzuela?

TORAL: Zarzuela is sort of the equivalent to Viennese operetta. It dates back to the 17th century actually, so it’s exciting to bring that to life here in San Diego because I don’t – I’ve never seen it performed. And L.A. Opera did a performance with Domingo a few years back of this particular opera zarzuela that I’m doing, “Luisa Fernanda” by Torroba, actually.

CAVANAUGH: So I’m mispronouncing it. It’s more zarzuela.

TORAL: Zarzuela, if you really want to sing with a Castilian Spanish, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: I’m never going to get that. Now are zarzuelas still being written today?

TORAL: You know, I’m not really sure. I’m not really sure if they are. This, “Luisa Fernanda” is probably the most popular one ever written and the most performed to this day.

CAVANAUGH: And I know that you’re going to perform an excerpt from “Luisa Fernanda.”

TORAL: Correct.

CAVANAUGH: What can you tell us about this particular piece?

TORAL: Well, it’s a beautiful romanza that expresses the love of Vidal for this – for Luisa Fernanda sort of at the end of the opera. We’re doing a lot of selections from Act III, the finale of the opera where sort of the story line comes to closure, if you will. And here he believes that Luisa is actually going to marry him and he sings of his love for his beautiful morena, his dark-skinned beauty. In the end, actually, she – Luisa leaves him for the younger guy earlier in the show so…

CAVANAUGH: Now, oops…

TORAL: Sad ending, there. Sorry. Little spoiler there.

L. ROMERO: You’re going to leave those out of the program notes.

TORAL: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now, are zarzuelas, are they very, very popular in Spain and Latin America or is this sort of a forgotten form?

TORAL: No, I think in Spain, certainly, it’s still very much alive and in Latin America. You know, Domingo’s parents actually toured the Latin American premiere due to Torroba. He asked them if they would tour this through Latin America and that’s how I think it really came to live in Latin America and be expressed and sung in this part of the world. So it’s still happening. It’s great.

CAVANAUGH: Well, it will be happening here live in just a…

TORAL: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: …moment. We have to take a short break but, everyone, stay around, stick with us because when we come back, we will hear Enriquo (sic) – or Enrique Toral perform a selection from the zarzuela called “Luisa Fernanda.” And that will be as These Days continues in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. My guests are Celino and Lito Romero, Enrique Toral and Brian Verhoye. And we are talking about a performance happening on Saturday night at Copley Symphony Hall. An event called "Amigos en Concierto." By the way, are you all amigos?

C. ROMERO: We are.

L. ROMERO: We sure are.


CAVANAUGH: Okay. Right now, we’re going to be hearing tenor Enrique Toral perform a selection from a zarzuela. It’s called “Luisa Fernanda.”

(audio of Toral performing excerpt from the zarzuela “Luisa Fernanda”)

CAVANAUGH: Beautiful. Thank you. That’s Enrique Toral performing a zarzuela, an excerpt from a zarzuela called “Luisa Fernanda.” Thank you so much, Enrique.

TORAL: You’re so welcome.

CAVANAUGH: And, of course, accompanied by pianist Brian Verhoye. Let me ask you, can you translate a little bit for us what the lyrics are about?

TORAL: Yeah, he’s basically describing his humble home that he has in his ranch, if you will, and he says it’s small and it’s white and it’s beautiful. And inside there’s a lady in it who is like a queen. And if she is the queen then, hopefully, I will be her king. And he just describes her beauty and talks about all the harvesters also admiring her and the shepherds playing music for her and just reveling in her beauty and the love for her that he will always have, that she will always be there with him.

CAVANAUGH: Is this one – considered one of the last great romantic zarzuelas?

TORAL: Yes, you’re exactly right. It is.

CAVANAUGH: It certainly sounds like it.

TORAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there’s – it’s a great storyline. It’s taking place during political times, during the reign of, I think, I’m just forgetting her name right now but it – it’s a very interesting story and it really resonated with the audience because they were dealing with a lot of politics at the time and so there was a little bit of politics, there’s some romance, there’s some comedy, so very, very evocative piece and very emotional.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know, Enrique, you are from San Diego, right?

TORAL: I’m from LA originally…


TORAL: …and I teach on faculty here at San Diego State actually.

CAVANAUGH: I see. You’ve been performing a lot around town lately.

TORAL: Correct. Yeah, it’s good to see you. I did a world premiere of “Rumpelstiltskin” here a few years back for Lyric Opera San Diego. I sang the title role.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, indeed.

TORAL: Yeah, do you remember that?


TORAL: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now what’s coming up next for you besides this concert?

TORAL: I’m looking – very much looking forward to this concert, and I’m actually going to be doing another piece of Nicolas Reveles’ for Diversionary Theatre in October, I believe.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that. That was lovely.

TORAL: My pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: I want to move on to pianist Brian Verhoye because the music featured in this concert is from Spain and from Latin America including, of course, South America. And, Brian, you’re going to be performing a sonata by an Argentine composer. Brian, tell us about this piece of music.

BRIAN VERHOYE (Pianist): Well, it’s a wonderful piece. I’ve had it for a long time in my repertoire and it’s just been very good to me so I always enjoy an opportunity to play from this piece. For the concert and also today, I’m just playing the fourth and final movement. It’s “Sonata No. 1” by Alberto Ginastera. I believe he wrote three sonatas for the piano and this particular piece has four movements, very classical style in the first movement, although it uses lots of his harmonic vocabulary. The second movement is very fast and very soft and very creepy, I would say. And then the third movement is the longest and slowest movement, almost like a twelve-tone row contemporary sound, very slow and static. It has one big outburst in the middle and then it dies away to nothing. And then finally this last movement kicks in and all heck breaks loose basically, is the way it ends, so he builds it to quite a climax through the whole piece. We have so much great music on the concert Saturday, I would’ve loved to have played the whole sonata but we’re going to do the last movement to represent Argentina.

CAVANAUGH: What can you tell us about Alberto Ginastera? Has he – Is he well known all around Latin America? How influential was he?

VERHOYE: I believe he is. There’s symphonic works that he’s written that are quite well known. There’s a very famous harp concerto. He passed away in 1983 so it’s been awhile since he’s been, himself, championing the music but it definitely gets hearings all over the place and I know this particular – the first piano sonata is a fairly well known piece and the harp concerto and other pieces as well.

CAVANAUGH: I think I mispronounced his name. It’s Ginastera.

VERHOYE: I believe it’s Ginastera, yes.

CAVANAUGH: Ginastera. Okay, so here’s Brian Verhoye performing Alberto Ginastera’s piece, “Sonata No. 1,” movement four.

(audio of Verhoye performing “Sonata No. 1” by Alberto Ginastera):

CAVANAUGH: Thank you. That’s Brian Verhoye performing the – an excerpt from the “Sonata No. 1” by Alberto Ginastera. That is such a startling piece. It’s almost violent. Is it difficult to play?

VERHOYE: Yes. Early in the morning. No, you know, I mentioned the other movements especially because the effect of this piece is quite dramatic when you build up to that last movement. It’s a little different out of context but, yes, it’s actually marked revido et bastinado, so like rough, coarse, persistent, words like that. It’s, I mean, you know, violent, startling, those are all good words. It’s very in your face, you know.

CAVANAUGH: It certainly is but, you know, there’s still something in the rhythmic quality of it that is sort of almost identifiably Spanish. And I’m wondering, you know, there’s such a rich body of Latin American and Spanish classical music, but you can almost tell sometimes when something has been written by a Spanish or a Latin American composer and I’m wondering, I’m going to pose this question to you, Celino and Lito, what do you think makes – brings that distinct quality of Spanish music?

L. ROMERO: Well, going back to – I mean, Spain has such a rich history, you know, between the Moors and the Arab influence and all these things that I think, you know, it never went away and it is strong in different ways throughout, you know, all Latin America, very triumphant type of sound and just like, you know, the Spanish history. So I think it’s easy to identify within that, different composers.

CAVANAUGH: I think so, too. There’s – and what about the rhythmic quality somehow?

C. ROMERO: You know what, I was actually talking to Brian before we got on the air was, it was reminding me, funny, of Dave Brubeck “Time Out” a little bit.

CAVANAUGH: That’s funny, yes.

C. ROMERO: Something there and…

CAVANAUGH: But a very angry Dave Brubeck.

L. ROMERO: There…

C. ROMERO: Yeah.

VERHOYE: Him on a bad day.

TORAL: Brian didn’t look angry as he was playing.

CAVANAUGH: No. No. I’m wondering, what are some of the qualities of Spanish and Flamenco guitar that make it distinct from other ways of playing the guitar.

L. ROMERO: Well the Flamenco, you know, the Spanish guitar, and as we play it in our family, is very influenced with Flamenco. So it’s – Flamenco is very percussive. You know, you do a lot with the instrument. It’s what you can, you know, with taps and different rhythms and – and all the Flamenco dances that have evolved over the years, going back to India and Arab influence and all that, so…

C. ROMERO: We really enjoy, you know, the, you know, starting off with Flamenco, we were all trained with Flamenco. All the Romeros started with Flamenco. And to be able to incorporate the technique with the Rasgueado into the, you know, Spanish classical music is so helpful. It really expands your repertoire. I mean, it’s amazing what that could do.


C. ROMERO: Well, I mean, certain composers call for a Rasgueado, like a brrrrrrrr, like that. And if you don’t know how to do a Rasgueado, it’s not going to sound – it’s not going to be what the composer originally wanted. And also, we believe with the Fl – I can’t – No, obviously, we’re on radio but it would…


C. ROMERO: …be – if I could show you. The Rasgueado is actually where you’re putting the nails like – flicking the nails, like kind of on the string.


C. ROMERO: So you get it – like it’s really helpful for good speed and tremolo. For technique, it’s amazing what it does because you reverse the way the tendons move. We’re always used to going a certain way but when the Rasgueado is in reverse and it relaxes it, so it’s…

L. ROMERO: We actually teach it to our students and we were taught it – to classical guitarists, you know, and when they’re developing – if they have an issue or whatever, we show them the Rasgueados and stuff and actually they – they’re very thankful after because they not only put it in their repertoire of techniques but it makes all the other classical techniques easier.

CAVANAUGH: I’m interested. We’ve gotten a really good idea of the wide range of music that people are going to be hearing at the “Amigos en Concierto” concert, and I’m wondering—I’ll ask you, Enrique. Do you find a link between all of these types of classical music that makes them Spanish, Latin American?

TORAL: Oh, certainly. I – As Celino and Lito were talking, I just kept thinking about just the passion and the fervor with which our people live. I mean, we’re such a intense sort of people. You know, we’re very passionate about what we do, and I think that comes through in the music and it really speaks for our souls. And, yes, definitely it – all Latin American music to me is bridged in one way to another. You know, music from Mexico, I could certainly hear influences from Cuba and things like that but also, as well, from Spain, so very much a linked entity, if you will.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to thank you all so much for really marvelous performances. Lito Romero and Celino Romero, thank you.

C. ROMERO: Thanks.

L. ROMERO: Thank you. My pleaure.

CAVANAUGH: Enrique Toral.

TORAL: Good to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Brian Verhoye. Thank you.

VERHOYE: Thank you, Maureen. You bet.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego Master Chorale's "Amigos en Concierto" takes place this Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. at Copley Symphony Hall. If you’d like to comment on anything you’ve heard in this segment, you can go online, Piano tuning for today’s performance is provided to KPBS by Joshua Hirschmiller Piano Services (sic). Repair, restringing and tuning by Joshua Hirschmiller Piano Service. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.