What’s it like to be a family with three generations of classical guitarists? There’s never been such a family – until the Romeros. Because his sons became guitar masters, Spanish guitarist, composer, and ambassador of classical guitar Celedonio Romero created a new musical entity: a classical guitar quartet. They became known as “The Royal Family of the Guitar.”
The quartet is now in its 60th year, the first 30 with Celedonio and his three sons Ángel, Pepe, and Celin, and the next 30 with grandsons Celino and Lito replacing Celedonio and Ángel. But despite their nickname, the family does not act like “royals.” Quite the contrary. Seeing them on stage was like hanging out in their living room. It’s clear that their sessions are great fun, full of spontaneity, pokes in the ribs, warmth, love of their art, and the intimacy that comes from knowing each other all their lives.
Their Kahilu concert – in person! – was a tribute to their country of origin; it was a tour of the most famous and beloved pieces from the Spanish repertoire and the family’s “greatest hits.”
They opened with the Prelude to La Revoltosa by Ruperto Chapí. The Troublemaker is a “zarzuela.” Like modern musicals, they were written for popular audiences who couldn’t afford the price of an opera ticket; they combined spoken word and song. Like the overture to West Side Story, this prelude takes themes from several of the musical’s numbers, from lively dances to lyrical songs. This provided a “prelude” to what we would hear in the rest of the performance.
I always appreciate artists who explain the context of the pieces, and Pepe and his family were good at that. Pepe, who often has performed solo over his career, gave us his solo interpretation of “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz, a piece familiar to every classical guitarist and fan. It has the exuberant cadences of flamenco, and Pepe’s fingers are still as agile as in his youth; his playing is relaxed but explosive where necessary, and despite his being the oldest member of the group, he was the most animated, the one who seemed most at one with the music.
Celino’s solo was his grandfather’s composition Fantasía, written to demonstrate all the various sounds and effects the classical guitar can make. A theme and variations that begin with a simple melody, we heard the techniques of tambourine, percussion, harmonics, tremolo, tapping – the secret to why classical guitar can sound like several instruments all in one.
While most of the music was from the Romantic period at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the quartet played one piece from the 18th century. Luigi Boccherini’s “Fandango” is based on the rhythms of a Spanish dance related to flamenco, but his style is closer to the Classical tradition of the Haydn era. As a result, we heard fewer melodic lines, more repetitions/variations of short phrases, the use of counterpoint, ornamentation. An early promoter of the string quartet, Boccherini was a fitting choice for the Romeros.
Ángel, who replaced Celin just for this performance and the most rambunctious of the four with a booming infectious laugh, remarked that Celedonio’s spirit was always hovering nearby whenever they performed. They brought him into the room by ending with the patriarch’s “Malagueña.” Then, with our fervent “hana hou,” they added a rousing encore that showcased different members of the family, rounding out the fun evening with everyone’s tapping, and everyone’s face smiling.
Thanks to William Jenks and US Classical Guitar for bringing us the “Royal Family of the Guitar.” They definitely treated us to a royal good time!
About the author: Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby