PEPE & LOS ROMEROS, the Royal Family of Guitar

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For an hour and a half the four play together and perform works in solo which, if you listen astutely, are the sounds of Spain—not some foreigner’s idea of Spain, but the soul of Spain made man 

 

By Saffron Flynn
Photos: The Romeros’ web sites and Record Albums

I was born and raised in New York. You know, a “New Yawkah.” When we’re stateside, we live about an hour and a half out (not my choice; I got kidnapped). Anyway, we do get in occasionally. The last time was around the holidays to attend a performance of “Los Romeros,” affectionately and actually known as The Royal Family of Spanish Classical Guitar. I had been a fan for a while, but for some reason I always missed them in concert—in the States, because I didn’t keep up with their schedule, or in Spain, where once or twice we just missed them by a hair’s breadth.

SAFFRON FLYNN Los Romeros 3 generations

From www.romeroguitarquartet.com, The Romeros’ official website

I won’t get into a whole bio of Los Romeros. I’m hoping that after reading this you’ll go to one of their websites and read about them for yourself, listen to a CD or two, and get hooked. My intention is to inject as much Spain into your veins as possible. To entice you, I’ll just say this: fleeing from artistic repression during the Franco regime in the 1950s, Celedonio Romero, a foremost classical Spanish guitarist and composer, left Spain with his wife and three sons, settled in San Diego, California, and in the 1960s formed the world’s only classical guitar quartet (of any note) with sons Pepe (a guitar prodigy at age 6), Celin and Angel.  The group, now into its third generation with Angel’s son, Lito, and Celin’s son, Celino, continues this outstanding, world-renown musical tradition.

When I received the email saying the boys were going to perform at the New York City’s 92nd Street Y (its performance center rivals Carnegie and Lincoln Center in terms of intellectual ambiance and acoustics), I whipped out the ole Visa, prepared to pay three times the $120 bucks it actually cost me for tickets. This was in September; the concert in November. So, needless to say, I faked interest in everything else for two and a half months. And just to heighten the thrill of anticipation, I did not play any of the 20 some CDs I owned featuring Pepe, Angel or the Quartet—solo or with full symphony accompaniment.  I wanted this live experience to be fresh. I wanted to feel the way I did when I first heard them on the classical radio station, what seems now years ago. I wanted to experience firsthand Pepe – suaver- than- suave, still killer at 70 – come striding out on the stage as I’d seen him do a number of times on PBS specials.

So we get to the Y and the place is buzzing. The guy behind us knows even more than I do about the boys, so we chat Romero for the thirty minutes we have left: Angel’s exit from the group in the 90s and the hypotheticals about why he left; a concert the guy had attended in Spain with 500 weeping Spaniards; the Romero ancestral home in Malaga before leaving for the sunny and similar climes of San Diego.

Malaga, in Southern Spain, FYI, has produced some fairly great artists: Pablo Picasso being its most lauded son, but in the artistic world there are many others.

The Romeros on an LP album cover

The (first generation) Romeros on an LP album cover

Soon the lights dim, the place goes silent, and out strut four men in tuxedos looking extremely comfortable in their shoes. Pepe, silvered-haired and smiling, wears a gold pocket watch dazzling in the stage lights.  In my admittedly romanticized vision of this family, I prefer to think perhaps the watch  belonged to Celedonio. Pepe idolizes his father; yes, idolizes, because for Pepe Romero, Celedonio Romero is very much alive in the over 35 original compositions the group includes in its various performances. It’s nice, that kind of family loyalty and fealty – so different from the American youth culture; you know, the one that places anyone over 50 in the psychological and social category of not only “over the hill” but worthless in terms of wisdom and accomplishments.

For an hour and a half the four play together and perform works in solo which, if you listen astutely, are the sounds of Spain—not some foreigner’s idea of Spain, but the soul of Spain made man.

The concert is over now. Everyone in the audience loudly campaigns for one more encore.  Pepe smiles—the broad electric smile of a happy man, a man who has done with his life what he most loves: play the guitar, spread its gospel to anyone with the sensibility to listen. The four finally leave the stage after three encores, but the audience demands another—me among them at the top of my voice. Pepe returns, alone this time; he settles himself on one of the four vacated chairs.

Pepe Romero

Pepe Romero

“One more then,” he says, turning and adjusting the tuning keys. An ignoramus two rows down complains under his breath, “Can’t you do that backstage?”

Actually, he can’t; tuning keys apparently have a life of their own; walking on stage can be enough to throw them off. Got it, dopey?

“This is one of my father’s compositions…Fantasia.” The happy man’s smile lights up the first ten rows, its residual glow extends outward to all of us less well-heeled devotees up here in the mezzanine.

 

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“Fantasia” as performed by Pepe Romero in Mosocw, from The Romeros’ official YouTube channel

 

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SAFFRON FLYNN ID pic pen and paperSaffron Flynn is in no way a stranger to the publishing scene. She has worked as editor, senior copywriter and news and feature journalist for major dailies in the United States. She taught creative writing at Stroudsberg University, PA, and was a Spanish Language Film Acquisitions Coordinator for Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Princeton, NJ.
For her Ruins she was awarded a First Honorable Mention from Quincy Writers Guild.
Ms Flynn now divides her time between the art community of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Southern Spain — when she isn’t somewhere else, of course, as she travels extensively.