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Romero Laments Lack of Appreciative Audiences

Some young pianists storm the musical scene, prodigies of technique and talent, only to disappear unceremoniously. Gustavo Romero, however, is not likely to be one of those “whatever happened to what’s-his-name?” pianists. For the modest length of his professional career, the 23-year-old virtuoso and native of Chula Vista has managed uncommon exposure internationally and what some people describe as overexposure on the home front. Every season, Romero can be counted on to make four or five local appearances, neatly divided between solo recital and orchestral venues.

In his second San Diego performance this month, Romero played Mozart’s C Minor Piano Concerto, K. 491, Friday night with the International Orchestra of USIU at College Avenue Baptist Church.

Mozart has always been a Romero calling card. This stormy concerto elicited from him lightning flashes of keyboard brilliance--nothing uncouth, of course. Romero is far too sophisticated to commingle Chopin’s rhetoric with the Classical proprieties of Mozart.

Two weeks ago at the Civic Theatre, Emmanuel Ax played the Mozart C Major Piano Concerto, K. 467, with the visiting Los Angeles Philharmonic. In comparison to that virtuoso but heavy-handed, monochromatic interpretation, Romero’s Mozart was the paragon of subtlety. His wide range of colors and articulations made every measure fresh and stimulating. Under conductor Zoltan Rozsnyai, the International Orchestra gave Romero an accompaniment full of brio but little finesse. Romero gave an enthusiastic audience a pair of encores, Mozart’s precious Adagio for Glass Harmonica and a flashy Scarlatti sonata.

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In an interview the week before his International Orchestra concert, Romero mused over the differences between American and European audiences and the fate of the solo recital.

“I’m constantly thinking about what’s going to happen to the solo recital. I mean, most of my public that really has a passion for (recitals) is over 60. Where will the recital be in 20 years, when they’re not here?”

Romero noted that there was no lack of the younger generation in the audience when he played in Europe.

“There, it’s a sign of being well-bred or cultured to attend recitals. At this point, I’m disillusioned with the American public. During last August and September I played a lot of concerts in Europe. When I came back, the whole fall I could not help but compare. American audiences are basically not as well-informed.”

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Romero will be making his Paris orchestral debut soon, playing the Ravel G Major Piano Concerto, as well as recital debuts in Milan and Brussels. On his immediate wish list, he would like to perform and conduct simultaneously a piano concerto.

“I’ve studied conducting at Juilliard, and, whenever I prepare a concerto, I prepare it from orchestral and conductor’s point of view also. Of all places, San Diego is the place to start.”

“I say to myself, ‘I’ve got to have a chance to put my ideas across.’ Plus the fact that conductors are not interested in the concertos--in the end you get very lousy accompaniments.”

Opera--San Diego County’s newest export. Tijuana will get its first fully staged opera, courtesy of the Grossmont College Opera Workshop. Director Elizabeth Kimery will take her singers, sets and orchestra to the Tijuana Cultural Center, where they will perform Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” on Friday and Saturday.

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“When we did this opera in November at the East County Performing Arts Center, our tenor, Rudolfo Velasco, invited Tijuana Cultural Center manager Rudolfo Pataky Stark to see the performance. He liked what we were doing and invited us to give the opera in Tijuana,” Kimery said.

Kimery described her Mozart cast, all of whom are enrolled in her Grossmont opera workshop course, as a mixture of experienced amateurs and semi-professionals, including several regulars from the San Diego Opera chorus. The course stages a complete opera every fall at the performing arts center.

Only after Kimery agreed to do the Tijuana performances did she learn of the language and bureaucratic hurdles she would face.

“For customs we have to provide itemized lists of everything we are taking across the border,” she said. “That includes four acts of sets and props, not to mention every costume. Each musician in the orchestra has to report exactly which instruments, including every drum and mallet, they are taking for the performance. Otherwise we will end up paying customs on the stuff when we come back across the border.”

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A number of language problems also surround this opera production. The Grossmont singers are performing Mozart’s best-known Italian opera in English to a Spanish-speaking audience. Because of local regulations, Kimery must use the center’s own technical crew. Although she speaks no Spanish, she is fluent in German, having sung in West German opera houses for 10 years before coming to Grossmont.

“Fortunately, I found a member of the cultural center’s staff who also lived in Germany for a while. I’ve been negotiating with her in a mixture of English and German.”

John Bauser, development director of the San Diego Symphony and erstwhile trumpet player, will depart San Diego at month’s end to become the executive director of the philharmonic in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton’s budget is about one-third that in San Diego. Its music director is Isaiah Jackson, an American conductor who was a guest on the local symphony’s podium during the 1984-85 season.


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