The most famous scion of a legendary guitar dynasty talks fathers and sons, working with Joaquín Rodrigo and his proudest moment.

You were born in Málaga in Andalusia – the home of flamenco. Was it inevitable that you would become a guitarist?

You know, that’s a very difficult question but I think the answer is “yes” because in my mind I always was. So whether it was inevitable or not, it was what I felt ‘right’ for from the start.

Your father was your only teacher. Was that a difficult apprenticeship?

I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have had such an incredible father. He was an amazing teacher and such an incredible example. I think myself really a fortunate man. My first concert was with my father when I was about seven years old. I remember I played Bach’s Gavotte and Sevilla by Albéniz, and I think I played a Fernando Sor Minuet.

But was he a hard taskmaster?

In a way, he was – but in the most patient and loving way. He was just very, very persistent and wanted to get things done right. His rule was that I was never allowed to play something for which I was not ready. So, an example: I was very little and I wanted to play Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, but until I had developed a beautiful tremolo I didn’t get to play it. Once I had that tremolo, then he said: “Now you are ready, now you can play it.” Whenever I was learning to play, he didn’t try to get me to develop the technique by working on a piece of music. I learnt in studies or exercises. And he was very careful with the repertoire that he gave me. Not only to me, but to my brothers also. It was always very progressive but also very methodical and well-planned.

Your version of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is probably the most famous recording of the work ever made. When did you first play it?

I first played it when I was in my 20s. One of the things that my father did was to make sure that we didn’t share the repertoire. So when one brother played a piece, the others didn’t play that piece. They played something else to avoid competition between us. Very early on I remember that Ángel and I flipped to see who would get to play what. It was between two concertos – between the Giuliani Op. 30 and the Aranjuez. Well, I got the Giuliani and Ángel got the Aranjuez. Then later on, when I got the contract with Philips records, that’s when Ángel and I started crossing repertoire. He recorded the Giuliani pieces and I recorded the Aranjuez.

Rodrigo wrote other works especially for you. What was it like working with him?

It was fantastic. He was a wonderful person, and he was also very inspiring. I am very fortunate that I got to premiere three of his five guitar concertos. World premieres! I did the premiere of the Concierto Madrigal with my brother Ángel – it was for two guitars – and I did the world premiere of the Concierto Andaluz with my family – that’s his concerto for four guitars. I also did the world premiere of the last guitar concerto that he wrote, Concierto para una Fiesta. Rodrigo was such a pure musician – he was all about the music. When you met him there was no room for ego, there was only room for the joy and the music. So for me, it was a wonderful experience to work with him. He was very secure about exactly what he wanted, but one of the things that he wanted in everything was that the player brought his own inspiration into the work. He enjoyed sitting back and seeing what it was that the performer created.

I gather that you play a guitar made for you by your son. What special qualities does the instrument have?

It has a very voluptuous tone. The voicing is very clear, and there are a lot of colours. It has a lot of flexibility which lets me do with the guitar whatever I want to do with it. It is a perfect fit for me. Soon after my first concert I played a Santos Hernandez guitar for many, many years. It was my father’s Santos Hernandez and he and I actually shared the same guitar. Then in 1958 I bought a Miguel Rodriguez from Córdoba. I played on the Miguel Rodriguez from that time until 1969 and then I played a Hermann Hauser II for four years. Finally, in 1973 I got a Rodrigo and I have played, and I continue to play, many times on that guitar. It is the one
on which I have recorded the Aranjuez – both recordings.

You’ve played for presidents and kings and popes. You’ve even been knighted by the King of Spain. What’s been your proudest moment?

My proudest moment as a guitarist was the night my father passed away, and the things that he said – about me as a guitarist – and how he felt about it. That’s the truth.

Now you are 70, where do you see your career developing next?

It’s just continuing to do what I love – continuing to play for as long as I can. And bringing the joy and the beauty that I feel within the guitar, and with music, to as many people as I can. And I am looking forward very much to coming to Australia!

Pepe Romero plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at Sydney Opera House, August 1 & 2.

Essential Recording

Pepe Romero
Master of the Guitar
Pepe Romero g, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner
DECCA 4785669 (11CD)

To commemorate his 70th birthday year, Decca have chosen a cross section of Pepe Romero’s greatest recordings for this 11 CD box set. From Rodrigo and Giuliani to Villa-Lobos and beyond.