Alberto Rodriguez Ortiz and ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! III: An International Event in the Heart of San Juan

by Gerry Saulter
March 2004

This past November, my flute-and-guitar ensemble was asked to open a guitar event in San Juan, Puerto Rico, titled ¡Guitarra…Guitarra¡ III. The concert featured the compositions of a dear friend named Alberto Rodriguez Ortiz. This was more than a guitar concert, this was truly a guitar event. My ensemble, Serenade, opened the event playing works by A. Piazzolla, M. Pujol, and L. Almeida. Following our performance, the show featured Alberto and his compositions with two special guitarists as guests. First, a 22-year-old “wunderkind” from Portugal named Pedro Rodrigues, and second, a true American Master, Dr. Nicholas Goluses. Dr. Goluses is a world-renowned guitarist and a true gentleman. He is yet another direct link to the legendary Andres Segovia. He has multiple recordings as a soloist and ensemble player, and he is the chair of Graduate Studies of Guitar at the Eastman School of Music.

The concert setting was the Raul Julia Theatre in the Museo de Arte of beautiful San Juan, Puerto Rico. This unique concert event was well-attended and thoroughly enjoyed by both the audience and participants. Personally, I will never forget the reception the audience gave us when we entered the stage or the enduring applause for us when we finished our set. I will cherish the memories of drinking wine on the rooftop terrace of the historic 300-year-old Gallery Inn Hotel in beautiful Old San Juan, enjoying the ocean breeze and talking music, politics, and life with old friends and new. Alberto and I spoke over drinks that night and then again after the holidays via phone and e-mail.

Tell us the history about Guitarra?

The idea of the ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! Concerts began at Paris, France, while Pedro and I were studying with Alberto Ponce. There we decided to do a concert that would be like a small festival by itself and, at the same time, showcased my compositions. Other guitarists that participated in the first ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! along with Pedro and me were Italian Antonio Fruscella and Spaniards Carlos Ramos and Victor Bravo. At the second one, Italian Luca D’Amore played with Pedro and me. We were all Ponce’s students.

(It should be stated that Alberto Ponce is one of the great guitarists of Europe.)

How and when did you and Pedro begin playing together? What is your connection to Nick and to one another?

The first time that Pedro and I performed on the same stage was, in fact, at the first ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! but we didn’t play together. We would share a couple of recitals, like the one we did at the American Church in Paris, before actually performing together. If I am not mistaken, I think the first time that we performed as a duo was in the second ¡Guitarra…Guitarra!

I first met Nick Goluses in 1993, when I went to the Rome Festival in Italy. There I also met a bunch of very cool and amazing guitarists, all studying with him. I stayed in touch with two of them, Paul Moeller and Ken Meyer, with whom I joined Nick’s studio at the Eastman School of Music in 1995. So, you can imagine what it means to me to play in a concert with my professor. Words can’t describe.

How did ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! move from France to Puerto Rico?

The Fundación de Amigos Música y Arte (F.A.M.A) is a non-profit organization that has helped me along with my studies and my professional career. So, once I returned to Puerto Rico, they contacted me to play a concert. I spoke with Ramón Rosado Vilá, President of F.A.M.A., and he asked me what kind of a concert I would like to do, I immediately thought about a ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! I contacted Pedro and he was happy to do it. I then called Nick and he was available and willing to come down and play, and finally I contacted you to get your flute and guitar duo, Serenade, to open the event. I was thrilled. With these two people playing on the event and your act opening it, I was confident that the concert was going to be well received.

What were your feelings about playing a sort of “homecoming” at the Museo de Arte in San Juan, Puerto Rico?

It was beautiful, most of all, because I have been performing constantly in Puerto Rico and I was very proud to share with my people this concept that was so successful in Paris. Plus, I was performing with some of my favorite musicians and human beings in the world.

Events like this don’t just happen. Who were the essential sponsors for the event?

The sponsors were: Puerto Rico’s Art Museum, Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, Puerto Rican Fund for Financing Cultural Task, Angel Ramos Foundation, Aranjuez Strings, Jan D’Esopo’s Gallery Inn, and of course, Friends of F.A.M.A.

Most of the music played was yours, either as guitar solos, duos, or trios. How did the music come about? Can you give us some history on the pieces?

I began the second half playing Tumbao, which is third of my three preludes for solo guitar. This piece, written in 1993, is based on Afro-Caribbean rhythms. It was the turn then for Densidades, written for two guitars, which was a world premiere. This piece is dedicated to my composition professor in Paris, Yoshihisa Taïra. This was a work demonstrating the densities of chords. After that, Pedro performed Sonata No. 2, written in 2002 and dedicated to him. This piece is in three movements and it is one of my most challenging pieces. Then, Nick and I performed Variaciones sobre un tema de W. A. Mozart. The theme is taken from the Andantino from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, K. 271. This set of variations goes back and forth from tonal to atonal harmonies. After that Nick played Homenaje a Héctor Campos Parsi. This piece was written in 1997 in tribute to Héctor Campos Parsi, who was one of the leading Puerto Rican composers of the 20th Century. To end the concert, the three of us performed Invocando a Yúcahu, a three-movement piece that tells a story of the Tainos, the Puerto Rican aborigines that lived in Puerto Rico before the arrival of the Spanish Conquerors.

Did you have help with fingerings/arranging, and who is the publisher?

The publisher for Homenaje a Héctor Campos Parsi is Querico Publications. For Variaciones sobre un tema de W. A. Mozart it is Tuscay Publications. Densidades is about to be published at a musical magazine from the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture named Resonancias. For the Variations, I did the fingerings and Pedro suggested some ideas that we used on the edition.

Can the scores be purchased?

My scores can be purchased in music stores or be ordered directly from Querico (Richard Stover) or Theodore Presser (Tuscany).

Are there any plans to record your music?

Yes. Actually I am finishing a solo CD of Puerto Rican music where I play three of my works (Homenaje a Campos Parsi, Three Preludes, Sonata No. 1. Also, Nicholas, Pedro and I are going to get together very soon to make a recording of my pieces.

I haven’t gotten a chance to mention it to you, but I plan on recording your Variacones: sobre un tema original “Quasi-Dowland.”

You know I dedicated that work to the master lutenist Paul O’Dette. I first heard him at Kilbourn Hall at the Eastman school of music. Go for it man! Thank you.

Any plans to organize another Guitarra event in Puerto Rico or elsewhere?

For the moment there are not immediate plans to do another ¡Guitarra…Guitarra! but let’s talk about maybe bringing the idea up to New York!

Alberto, I cannot thank you enough for including my ensemble in your event. The people I have met were as warm and wonderful as the island itself and the concert and audience was tremendous. I look forward to working with you in the future.

As do I. Thank you my friend. Be well.