BY BLAIR JACKSON
The unveiling of a new guitar concerto is always worth celebrating, and in August 2016 Angel Romero, fronting the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel, premiered Lalo Schifrin’s Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra No. 2: Concierto de La Amistad as part of a program of music by Argentinian composers at the world-famous Hollywood Bowl. The entire concert has now been released by the C Major Entertainment company on a superb DVD called Tango Under the Stars. Besides the expansive concerto by Schifrin—who is best-known for his many Grammy-winning and Oscar-nominated TV and film scores—the disc includes full-orchestra versions of five pieces by Piazzolla (all but one featuring bandoneon player Seth Asarnow and a troupe of tango dancers) and four dances from Alberto Ginastera’s Estancia.
Romero and Schifrin have been friends for several decades. “The first time I heard Angel Romero’s guitar-playing,” Schifrin wrote in notes to the sheet music for the Amistad concerto, “I was mesmerized not only by his impeccable technique, but also by the passion he has invested in every single note. That is why I wrote for him my first guitar concerto a few years back, which he recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. But that that was not enough for me. Now I have decided to offer him a second concerto in order to continue our musical journey together.”
Schifrin further told the Los Angeles Times, “The concerto is a journey in time, reaching back to the ancestors of the guitar—lutes, vihuelas, ancient instruments from the Orient and Africa—to the six-string guitar we know today. The music travels from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, to the Romantic era, and modern times, through different scales and rhythms. The journey goes through Europe, especially Spain and Portugal, to Latin America and the rest of the world. It’s also a series of dialogues between the orchestra and the guitar. Basically, this work brings a message of joy, or the memories of a dream.”
For his part, Romero told CG, “Lalo is like family to me and he knows me extremely well and he knows my music. So I didn’t really need to have any input; it was all created by him. He knows what I like and my technique, so he just goes wild. My technique is pretty boundless, so he writes for me knowing that what he puts down pretty much I can do, except maybe change a note here or there to make it more coherent for the hands—but always within the realm of what he’s trying to say.”
Asked if he can hear Schifrin’s Argentine roots in the piece, Romero excitedly says, “Yes, of course! It’s very Argentinian, but also so much more. At the beginning, there’s a part that sounds like an Irish jig, and he covers the entire universe musically. But there are also parts sing very much like a soft, gorgeous tango. He’s very romantic and extremely rhythmic—it’s a fantastic piece!”
Remarkably, Romero and the orchestra had just one full rehearsal the day of the performance. The result is quite spellbinding—in turns lush, driving, incredibly delicate, dramatic, melodious, and powerful. And needless to say, Romero’s performance is incredible.
And, as a bonus, here’s Angel Romero performing part of Ernesto Lecouna’s Suite Andalucía during the 2008 Boston GuitarFest: