Partners with 12 strings attached

When Robert Wetzel met fellow classical guitarist Fred Benedetti in the master's degree program at San Diego State University, they found a musical kinship that would evolve into a long professional bond. Each had played in enough situations to know that the ease with which they collaborated and their shared musical values were uncommon.

"We played our first gig together," Wetzel says, "and it was just very easy. Our fingerings and phrasings were similar and there weren't a lot of problems."

The San Diego residents will bring their sublime synchronicity to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena as part of its Summer Concert Series on Friday evening in the Main Gallery.

Veteran Los Angeles classical music critic Laurence Vittes makes the following observations about the guitar duo format. "When you consider the Latin and Spanish influences," he says, "the percussive effects, sounds, textures and timbres found in two guitars, it's a tremendously rich genre."

Vittes, whose insights are regularly seen on the Huffington Post website, continues, "It's a bit of a shame, then, that the guitar duo, which used to be so much a part of the concert diet in Southern California, is not as prevalent as it once was."

Wetzel and Benedetti draw from a vast amount of music that covers the Renaissance, the Rococo and Baroque eras, the classical period, the Romantic, Impressionist movements and music by 20th- and 21st- century composers.

"The guitar," Vittes points out, "is quite easy to listen to. It's easier to hear much of the modern music of the 20th century on the guitar. There's a greater opportunity to show the similarities of modern art to modern music with the guitar. Pop music has something to do with that because the guitar is so pervasive."

Like Wetzel, Benedetti participated in master classes conducted by Christopher Parkening; he also studied with Andres Segovia. Benedetti has extensive studio credits and has been heard in the company of the late Dave Brubeck, jazz bassist Peter Sprague and Art Garfunkel.

No surprise then that Wetzel's initial inspiration and enthusiasm for the instrument was ignited by a Led Zeppelin concert he attended in his native Dallas. "I saw Jimmy Page," he recalls with some residual wonder, "and he played so much on the guitar that I just decided I wanted to learn as much about it as I could."

For Wetzel, that meant traveling to San Diego, beginning in 1972, to study successively with all of the renowned Romero family, beginning with Angel, then Pepe and Celino, and the patriarch, Celedonio. Wetzel even stayed with the Romeros, almost as a member of the family. Aside from the technical exercises, the First Family of the Guitar had a consensus aesthetic that it imparted to him.

"Aside from technique, the overriding idea that they taught me," Wetzel says, "is to honor the wishes of the composer. Play the music as close to the way it's written as possible. So if you're going to change tone color, wait until the end of the phrase to do it — not in the middle. Be sincere about what you're interpreting and don't change direction from the core outline of the piece."

Seemingly, that doesn't leave much room for individuality. The duo's dazzling counterpoint and contrary motion on "Allegro — Grave" from "Concerto in D minor," by Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709) on its 1998 SBE album, "Concert Hall Classics," erects a cathedral of sound in less than four minutes.

"We don't inject improvisation into these styles," Wetzel point out, "but we have leeway in the Baroque pieces. We have the freedom to add embellishments, trills and ornamentations to the notes."

"There's a deep feeling that magically comes from this music," Wetzel contends. "We like to feel that we're bringing a feeling of peace to our audiences and cleansing them from the distractions of everyday life — for however long they can hold onto that."

What: Odeum Guitar Duo, "Of Northern European and Mediterranean Origins."

Where: Norton Simon Museum, 411 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.

When: Friday, July 26 at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free with admission to the museum.

More info: (626) 449-6840,

--KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.

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