Paraguayan classical guitarist Berta Rojas may be best known for her collaborations with Paquito d’Rivera on the road and in the studio. Their 2012 album Día y Medio earned her one of her three Latin Grammy Award nominations.
The concert program she brought to the 92nd Street Y in New York City on Saturday night focused on 20th-century classical guitar works by, or associated with, female guitarists and composers whose names may be unfamiliar to most 21st-century U.S. listeners.
Argentinian guitarist María Luisa Anido drew inspiration from her native country’s folklore for her compositions. Rojas played Anido’s “Aire to Vidalita,” for example, a piece derived from a folk song tradition. Anido’s “El Misachico” stood out for me, with its incandescent descending strums and low, quiet intensity. I was not surprised to learn from Wikipedia that Anido dedicated it to her mother, and that a Misachico is a procession carrying a family’s personal image of a saint. And Anido’s Bach-like “Preludio Lejania” recalled connections to older international musical traditions. Rojas played this gorgeous tapestry of arpeggios with a soothing, searching spirit.
The program also included two stirring works by celebrated classical guitarist Ida Presti. Rojas opened the concert with “Segovia,” a piece inspired, I presume, by the French prodigy’s encounter with the legend when she was just 13, at which time, according to legend, Segovia advised her that she needed no further instruction from any other guitarists, including himself.
Rojas’ performance of Presti’s “Danse Rhythmique” was another highlight of the concert. The folk song-like melody leapt out from her left hand’s dizzying scamper up and down the fretboard.
Rojas’ technique dazzled as well in the “Sonatina” by Federico Moreno Torroba. Following a playful first movement, the lyrical second gave the guitarist an opportunity to indulge her gift for a kind of concentrated romanticism. The bright, dance-like final emphasized the Spanish composer’s affinity for his country’s folk music; Rojas delivered it with confident bravado.
The concert closed with a commission of Rojas’ own: the New York premiere of Anido’s Portrait by Sérgio Assad (of the Assad Brothers). This four-movement work by the noted Brazilian guitarist and composer reflects his engagement with folk music – which could be taken as a theme of the entire concert, actually. The Portrait, Assad’s tribute to Anido, demands a level of virtuosity that earned Rojas a standing ovation.
Rounding out the program were a lightning-quick piece of six-string fireworks by Gilbert Biberian, who studied with Presti, and “Idylle pour Ida [Presti],” a piece with a harp-like flow by British guitarist and composer John Duarte, a friend of Presti’s.
The only disappointment was that the venue did not supply Rojas with a microphone through which to address the audience. This is a large hall and I wasn’t able to hear her spoken introductions and explanations.
The music, on the other hand, needed no boost. Her guitar rang richly and clearly, every nuance audible, her touch silken – which is to say, both as soft and as strong as silk.
Visit the 92nd Street Y website for a full schedule of the Marshall Weinberg Fall 2021 concert season. It includes top names such as Marc-André Hamelin, Randall Goosby, The Knights, and another jewel of contemporary classical guitar, Ana Vidović.