Pepe Romero, one of the world’s most accomplished classical guitarists, returns Saturday to Washington to join members of the National Symphony Orchestra for the annual New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center concert.
On a program under the direction of Murry Sidlin that includes work by Rossini, Bernstein, Copland, Tchaikovsky and others, Romero will be playing one of the most famous pieces of music from Spain, Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, parts of which are better known for becoming the basis of Miles Davis’s “Sketches of Spain.”
Romero, 67, has played for presidents, popes and royalty and is part of a storied Spanish family of classical guitarists led by his father and sole teacher, Celedonio Romero. Romero said over the phone earlier this month from Germany, where he was winding up a series of Christmas concertos, that he cannot remember a time when he was not playing guitar, creating music that has the power to gather and elevate all kinds of people.
“For me, there are three things that I have no conscious memory of learning. One was how to speak, the other was how to walk and the other how to play a guitar. I give credit to actually both my father, for who he was and how he inspired me to play, and my mother, who encouraged and guarded the time whenever I wanted to practice, which was a lot. I’ve always loved to practice.
“I was born in 1944, and Spain had just finished its own war. Europe was in a horrendous war, and things were tough in Spain. And when things are tough, the arts come to the rescue of the people.
“That’s what I would like to see now. Unfortunately, we need a little more awareness that the arts are a necessary part of feeling, of energizing the soul, energizing the spirit. Without the spirit and the soul taking a strong part of our conscious awareness, we really are not that ready to meet the challenge of our times. We need the music. It’s a very important part of the energy we need.
“The guitar is a bridge because it attracts the real connoisseurs who know that the guitar is indeed one of the oldest, richest classical music instruments, with a vast literature and a grand trajectory through the ages, through the centuries, and those who don’t really know that much of classical music, who are almost afraid of classical music, but like the guitar because of its own mystical, magical powers and because the guitar is an instrument that appeals to all different kinds of music-making. There’s guitar in country western. There’s guitar in jazz. There’s guitar in flamenco. There’s guitar in South American folk music, and there is, of course, guitar in the most classical tradition. So sometimes, people who go to see a guitar concert fall in love with classical music through it.
“It’s a wonderful instrument. It’s also an instrument that’s pleasurable to play from the very beginning. If a person buys a guitar and learns how to play a C major chord and strums it — or no chord at all, just strums the open strings — the sounds give a lot of pleasure. And then you can discover, to take it to its virtuosic realms, it is one of the most difficult and most exciting and intriguing instruments.
“The beautiful thing that happens with music is that everyone puts whatever they do aside, and they just vibrate with the music. They listen, they become part of that, and everybody is united. So when you are playing, or maybe you have a president or a pope, or you can have a shoemaker or a doctor or a plumber — whatever role we play in society, when we listen to music we become aware of a different part of our being. We tend to listen to music with our immortal spirit, and that is the same, no matter what role we play. That is the same whoever we are. We put that aside and we just feel the music. That is the beauty of it. So for me, I play the same no matter what the profession of the person listening to me.
“What I hope is not so much what influence I have on them but that they feel the same joy from the music as I feel from it. When I’m performing something like the piece I’m going to be playing in Washington on New Year’s Eve, that particular piece has accompanied me for many years and given me through the years immense pleasure, immense soothing, immense joy to play it. I would hope that the people listening to it can feel that. It is not really about what I can do for them so much as being aware for what the music can do for the people who are listening. The greatest enjoyment that I feel is if I am able to be an instrument that transmits that power that music has to the audience.”
Catlin is a freelance writer.
Pepe Romero performs with members of the National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Murry Sidlin, in the annual New Year’s Eve at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW, Saturday at 8:30 p.m. in the concert hall. Remaining tickets are priced from $72 to $95.
Ticketholders are invited to a Grand Foyer Party afterward, ringing in 2012 with music by the Salon Orchestra of Washington and Full Swing until 1 a.m. A balloon drop is scheduled at midnight. Information: 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600