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Legendary guitarist Angel Romero brings 'Concierto de Aranjuez' back to LA Philharmonic 50 years after its debut

by Michelle Lanz and Cameron Kell | The Frame

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Spanish guitar virtuoso Angel Romero. N. Venis

Sixty-eight-year-old master guitarist Angel Romero comes from a long line of celebrated Spanish classical guitarists. His father, Celedonio, and brothers Pepe and Celin formed the band Los Romeros and became known as "The Royal Family of the Guitar.”

Romero is in Los Angeles for a series of performances with the L.A. Philharmonic this week in which he’ll perform Joaquín Rodrigo’s 1939 "Concierto de Aranjuez" under conductor Gustavo Dudamel's baton.

Romero made his U.S. debut at age 16 with the "Aranjuez" at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic. This series of performances marks his highly anticipated return. 

When Romero joined us with his guitar in The Frame studios, we asked him about coming back to the L.A. Phil with the "Concierto de Aranjuez" 51 years after his first U.S. performance of the piece, his relationship with composer Joaquín Rodrigo, and the evolution of his style over his vaunted career.

Interview Highlights:

This is a return engagement with the L.A. Philharmonic, 51 years after your first performance with them when you were 16. Do you remember that appearance?

Of course I do! I did the premiere of the "Aranjuez," yes. About 10 minutes before I came out at The Bowl, I had a fantastic hamburger. [laughs] Back in those days — and at any time — making music has been very joyful. It's a form of expression that's very intimate, but at the same time I share it, and it's a fantastic experience.

As I do now, I had an incredible passion for music. And this was a brand new concierto, so it was like telling everybody that had not heard a story, which was wonderful. I wanted to tell the story of the "Aranjuez" through my music, because that's how I see music — it's like a movie in my head. It's fun because I can do things with expression, things that are very intuitive and very in the moment, so it's wonderful.

Is there an ability within that piece to express differently in every performance? How much room do you have within the music itself to deliver a unique performance from show to show?

You cannot study expression. It's like if you fall in love, you couldn't really go in a room and practice saying, "I love you." [laughs] "She's going to sit in front of me, and I'm going to say, "I love you," and it will feel like this." No, that's ridiculous. You know the words, but in the moment, you say it differently every time, even to the same person.

The "Concierto de Aranjuez" is a beautiful piece of music. What does this music mean to you, and how do you hope it makes an audience feel?

From the very beginning, it's like you come out and throw the audience a kiss. You say, "I'm here." It establishes the theme of happiness, and it doesn't really become as profound until the second movement.

But the "Aranjuez" and I have a special affair, because it's very much like I am — I get up in the morning and all that, and I'm happy, ready to take on the day. And then maybe I get more romantic or whatever in the afternoon, and then I get mean and scream at my family. No, no, I never. [laughs] No, we've got to keep it real, which the "Aranjuez" also does!

I want to talk about your relationship with the composer, Joaquín Rodrigo. You don't just perform this piece — you have a long collaboration with him. Tell us a little bit about what you and Joaquín have done and why he's been an important collaborator in your career.

Joaquín Rodrigo was a name that I had just seen in writing and in so many compositions when I was a tiny baby, and then all of a sudden — well, I was in awe, to be able to have the opportunity. It's like, "Who's your granddad?" "Oh, Mozart!" [laughs] "Who are you going to eat with?" "Oh, Beethoven." Rodrigo's no less, and he and I shared like family. I would take care of him if he was sick, he would take care of me when I was sick.

One time, I became ill from drinking well water when my car broke down somewhere in the outskirts of Spain, and he took really good care of me, like my granddad, although he was blind. One night when I was horribly sick with food poisoning, he took me by the arm and led me everywhere. It was pitch black in the house, and he didn't even turn on the lights, because he was blind, he had no eyes, and he said, "You see, Angel, it comes in handy to know where everything is." And he led me, actually — the blind man led me.

If you listen to yourself playing this same piece of music more than 50 years ago, what would you say of your performance? How have you evolved as a musician since?

Well, back then I was very carefree and I performed like an absolute tiger. My "Aranjuez" became legendary. I can openly say that, it's not like I'm being conceited — it is known, it became a pinnacle for all the guitarists. And still, with the record companies going out of sight, that "Aranjuez" is still released.

That became the definitive version of it, because it was on fire, the scales and everything, and you know what? Then I recorded it with Andre Previn and the London Symphony and I was Mr. Sophisticate, but still with fire that you could hear. Still, I thought, "Oh, I've grown up a little bit, I can't just fire out like a machine gun." But then that bored me, so I picked up the machine gun again.

So this is the Viagra version of the song?

Uh, do you use it? I don't even — hey, how come you know about that?

I see the TV ads.

Me too! [laughs] After 4 hours, you know who to call! [laughs] 

Listen to Angel perform live in the studio:

If you're speaking to a young musician today, regardless of what instrument they play, what's the most important advice you can give to them about how they should grow and become a musician?

Music should be a representation of who the person is, and it's true! Sometimes you can hear someone playing mean, or soulless with just technique, and then you speak to the person and you have to run the other way, because you see they're not a nice person.

And then you see someone who might not play with such chops, but it'll knock you over emotionally. I don't judge what people say by their accent, but by what they say. The thing is to get there. How you get there doesn't make that much difference.

For information about his performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, visit laphil.com or call 323-850-2000.

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