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I must admit that I watched “Gustavo Romero: Portrait in Piano”
with a certain sense of déjà vu. This two-DVD set has been
released under the Snapshots Foundation Presents label,
a nonprofit organization whose aim is to acquaint the public
with musicians and artists who for various reasons, are
“below the radar.”

Gustavo Romero is such an artist. When not concertizing
worldwide, this talented and probing musician devotes his
remaining schedule to giving lecture/recitals in various locales.
Born and raised in San Diego, California, he now resides
primarily in Texas and New York. For the past several years,
Romero has provided summer lecture/recitals at the
University of California/San Diego, and concerts at the
Neuroscience Institute in San Diego. In fact, my mother
attended his lectures and recitals devoted to the works of
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) last year. This summer, she enjoyed
similar Romero programs on the music of George Gershwin
(1898-1937) and Claude Debussy (1862-1918).

The “déjà vu” factor for me stems from the fact that while in
college (at Cal State Northridge), I played with the San Diego
Youth Symphony during the summers. In 1979, we toured
England and Scotland with a brilliant young
soloist—Gustavo Romero. At that time, he performed
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major”
with us. Although I didn’t get to know him then, I recall that
he played very well.

Flash forward to 2012—and my viewing of this two-DVD set.
Romero is now a 47-year old, accomplished pianist with a huge
repertoire, and a truly adventurous spirit where music is
concerned. As he mentioned during the “Portrait in Piano” film
on Disc One of this set, he’ll typically learn a piece, and then
want to immediately “move on” to new repertoire. The remainder
of Disc One is a 53-minute recital, containing some of these
“fringe” pieces. One of these works was the
“Piano Sonata in D Major” by Mateo Albéniz (1755-1831),
who was not related to the more famous Isaac Albéniz
(1860-1909). Another piece, “Black Earth,” by Fazil Say (1970 – ),
required Romero to press the strings under the piano lid,
thus at times, “preparing” the piano. A third, lesser-known
work, “Chanson D’ Antomne” by Stephen Reynolds (1947 – ),
was an attractive work in a Neo-Romantic vein.  The remainder
of Romero’s recital program featured music by Frederic Chopin
(1810-1849), Franz Liszt, Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943),
and Johann Sebastian Bach/arranged by Alexander
Siloti. Some of these pieces were more famous than others.

Although this DVD was not a lavish production, it was
nevertheless well done. Disc Two contained roughly 100 minutes
of interviews with Romero, his mother, Leticia, Juilliard professor
and pianist, David Dubal (1940 – ), and other colleagues. I was
most interested in Romero’s thoughts on music and piano playing
in general. His carefully considered responses to the interview
questions were usually preceded by lengthy pauses. I’ve never
seen a DVD portrait containing so much interview footage.

Unfortunately, there was redundancy between the
“Portrait in Piano” interview clips on Disc One and the entire
interviews with the same subjects on Disc Two. To make matters
worse, the piano pieces featured in this segment weren’t identified,
as they were during the recital performance on  Disc One. Some
of these works, such as Chopin’s “Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major” and
Fazil Say’s “Black Earth,” were excerpted from the recital program.
Other pieces featured in the “Portrait in Piano” film were not
duplicated in the recital. Therefore, those watching the “Portrait”
segment may not be able to identify them. How hard would it have
been for the film’s director, Jonathan Bewley, to identify all of the
excerpts in the “Portrait,” as he did during the recital, instead of
assuming that viewers of this disc would either be familiar with
these works, or be ambivalent as to their titles? Some of us
would like to know what we’re hearing, Mr. Bewley!

Hopefully, as this DVD makes the rounds of certain film festivals,
Gustavo Romero will begin to accrue some of the overdue
recognition that he deserves. Although he has recorded for the
KOCH label, he’s still “under the radar.” At any rate, his obvious
talent, inquisitive mind and love of teaching will carry him far. I can
think of worse ways to remain in relative obscurity. This is a
“local boy” who has certainly made good!

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