[Editor’s Note: Angel Romero is the youngest son of legendary guitarist Celedonio Romero, who, along with Angel’s brothers Pepe and Celin, formed the widely admired Los Romeros guitar quartet in 1960, three years after the family emigrated from Spain to America. He continued playing with Los Romeros until 1990, when he was replaced by Celin’s son Celino. Following Celedonio’s death in 1996, Angel’s son Lito joined. Angel has enjoyed a long, distinguished career as a guitarist, composer and conductor. Here, he shares memories of his close relationship with Joaquín Rodrigo, which ultimately resulted in Angel writing a concerto called Rincones de España (“Corners of Spain”), based partially on themes conceived by Rodrigo. The work debuted at Lincoln Center in 1991.]
Living the Dream
by Angel Romero
I once dreamt a fairy tale of a young man meeting a great composer. In reality, I was the young man and Joaquín Rodrigo was the great composer.
Many years ago, at the age of 16, I had the opportunity to perform the West Coast premiere of a guitar concerto that I had admired since childhood: Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. My next dream was to meet the great Rodrigo. This occurred in 1966 on the occasion of the premiere of the Concierto Madrigal for two guitars that I played with my brother—Pepe Romero—with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the baton of the great conductor Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos. This was the first time I was in the presence of this great composer, and very quickly our friendship bloomed into a very close and fraternal relation. I had the pleasure of going to Rodrigo’s home often to spend time with him not only as a friend, but professionally as well—he was fond of me as an interpreter of his works.
On his visits to the United States he would sometimes stay with my family [near San Diego] and I often had the pleasure of taking long walks with him on the beach in Del Mar, where we enjoyed many private moments sharing questions and giving advice, as a grandfather and grandson might. During one of these walks on the beach, I asked him if he would write a concerto for me. With his arm resting on mine, he told me warmly that he was too old to write such a piece, but that I would be the perfect vehicle to realize this work. He laughed as he patted my shoulder and said “Angelin, you know my music as well as I do.” He told me that he had long wanted to put into a work a set of themes which he had collected over the years, titled Rincones de España. When I heard him say all these things to me, my excitement grew to a point where I lost touch with reality for a moment, left him on the side of the sand, and dove into the ocean! When I came out of the water, I again took his arm as he stood there smiling. As he was blind, the expression on his face was one of amusement and at the same time worry about where I had disappeared to.
Soon after his return to Spain, he surprised me with a letter and package that included a piano score titled Rincones de España. Accompanying the themes, was a written statement from him to me which I have kept and cherished all these years: “Through my years I have collected these themes which I have titled Rincones de España which I send you, Angel, with the greatest admiration and affection, knowing that only one such as you will put pen to paper with the most gratifying outcome.”
‘Rodrigo had an incredible zest for life and a tremendous sense of humor which can very much be heard in some of his compositions.’
One can only imagine the emotions that I, an interpreter of Rodrigo’s music, felt upon receiving this treasured gift.
A few years went by before I decided to finally write the concerto Rincones de España. I tried to be as faithful as possible, using Rodrigo’s own harmonies and order of the themes. I took some liberties, as allowed by him, to embellish and augment the original themes, taking them through my own feelings and imagination, and different changes of keys. I added harmonies and also included a slow movement in which I presented my own theme and created my own signature. In a way, it was a heartfelt thank you to show my gratitude to him for his gift— this incredible vehicle which allowed me to express myself and tell, through music, about my life in Spain, my immigration as a young boy to a new world called the United States of America, and my close relationship with my father, my mother, and my brothers.
When I arrived, I was one week shy of 11 years old and had no idea of how to speak English. The first word I learned was “come,” like “follow me,” but without knowing what it really meant, so I always wondered why at the playground all the kids would follow me wherever I went. I asked one of my Spanish-speaking friends, “Why are so many kids following me and laughing?” He answered me, smiling: “Could it be because you keep repeating ‘Come’? Maybe you should learn some other words.”
At the time, this made me laugh hysterically.
The transition from Spain to the United States was difficult for me. Over time, I became more Americanized—like other kids, I enjoyed the cowboys and Indians I would see on television and in the movies—but I never forgot the feelings of that young boy from Spain. Throughout my youth, I listened constantly to Spanish music, and I always looked up to Joaquín Rodrigo as representing the pinnacle of Spanish music.
When I finally did meet Rodrigo, I found that he was very much of the same temperament as I was, to the point where he asked my family to take him to Disneyland. It was quite something to see the maestro going up and down, screaming inside a roller coaster car. He had an incredible zest for life and a tremendous sense of humor, which can very much be heard in some of his compositions.
The way I am today, years later, is a personification of all of these great experiences I had with him and with others. I can still recall clearly that when as I was putting the theme of “León” down [in Rincones de España] my own inspiration came into play and brought [Rodrigo’s] original theme to an abrupt halt—“This is where my theme comes in.”
After I drift far away from the original theme and go into a full development of my own theme, I bring it to a close with a solo guitar cadenza, which speaks of all the themes, including my own. As it approaches the end of the large cadenza, the guitar brings back Rodrigo’s suggested theme with a lush orchestral tutti. This climactic moment is where I musically blend the mutual love and respect between Rodrigo and myself.
As an epilogue to the above I must say: “Thank you, Don Joaquín, for having allowed me to be part of your life, not only musically, but personally. I ate with you, I laughed with you, I swam at the beach with you. You took care of me when I needed you, as I also took care of you. I miss you. I wish I could hear your laughter again, although I do musically when I hear some of your themes. You never were able to hide your personality, or disguise it in any way, in your music. You, as a person, with all your God-given attributes, will always live through your music. Thank you for the words of guidance that you gave which helped inspire me to put pen to paper and write this concerto based around your themes.”
Here’s Angel performing the Adagio from Rodrigos’s Concierto de Aranjuez.
This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Classical Guitar magazine.
The issue also features Jason Vieaux, Joaquin Rodrigo, female flamenco guitarists, a special focus on contemporary luthiers, and much more. Click here for more information on the issue.