Guitar’s ‘royal family’ plucks heartstrings at Pick concert

Will Lerner

Upon completing his solo composition “Al Maestro (For The Teacher)” on Thursday night, Pepe Romero simply stood up and smiled.

Every concert Romero and his family members perform honors the memory of Celedonio Romero, Pepe Romero’s grandfather. The late Celedonio Romero, who began instructing his sons when they were only 2 years old, later formed a quartet known as The Romeros.

The group, now composed of Celedonio’s sons and grandsons, performed solos, duets quartets in front of a nearly packed Pick-Staiger Concert Hall. The performance marked the beginning of this year’s five-concert Segovia Classical Guitar series, the only series of its kind in the Chicago area.

Often called “the royal family of guitar,” the Romeros performed a diverse set of pieces by composers from Germany to Brazil. Grandchildren of Celedonio Romero, Lito and Celino Romero, each played original compositions by their grandfather.

“They deal with (the guitar) as if it’s another limb,” said filmmaker Bill Chayes, who recently completed a PBS documentary on the Romeros. “It’s completely intertwined with their lives in an inseparable way.”

Throughout their careers, the members of the quartet have had to commission various composers to write music for their quartet format.

“Most of the original classical quartet repertoire was written for the Romeros by the great composers and still is being written for them,” Chayes said.

The Romeros motivated the creation of these compositions, which ultimately elevated the status of the guitar as a classical instrument closer to that of the violin or the piano, according to Chayes.

But the Romeros’ rise to fame was not without its setbacks.

After fleeing the repressive Spanish regime of Francisco Franco in 1957, Celedonio Romero settled with his family in Southern California. Three years later, he formed the world’s first classical guitar quartet with his three sons, Celin, Pepe and Angel.

Though Celedonio Romero died in 1996 and Angel dropped out of the quartet in 1990 to pursue a solo career, the quartet still consists entirely of family members, with Lito and Celino Romero stepping in.

“It’s not possible to point to another family that has had the same kind of success in passing down musical talent,” Chayes said.

Their fundamental connection to the guitar historically began early in the Romero family. By age 7, each of Celedonio Romero’s sons had performed in public.

“They’re probably more comfortable on stage than anywhere else,” Chayes said.

The Segovia series, which is supported by the Chicago Classical Guitar Society, began in 1993 to commemorate the centennial birthday of legendary guitarist Andr