Berta Rojas

Berta Rojas in New York. Photo by Julia Crowe.

Berta Rojas in New York. Photo by Julia Crowe.

[10-1-14:  CONGRATULATIONS TO BERTA ON HER LATIN GRAMMY NOMINATION FOR SALSA ROJA!!!]

Berta Rojas is working on a new album with Latin Grammy-winning composer Carlos Franzetti and Camerata Bariloche, a chamber orchestra from Argentina. The yet-untitled project will take two years to release, as she is working on the music arrangements this year and will be devoting the following year to recording.  For a concert preview, please view the new video toward the end of this post.

Berta Rojas with Camerata Bariloche.  Photo courtesy of Berta Rojas.

Berta Rojas with Camerata Bariloche. Photo courtesy of Berta Rojas.

Rojas will be performing concerts this autumn with Camerata Bariloche in Asunción, Paraguay at the Teatro Lirico at the Banco Central del Paraguay on September 24th and 25th.  Camerata Bariloche was awarded the Platinum Konex Award as Best Chamber Orchestra in Argentina by the Konex Foundation in Argentina the same year that Martha Argerich and Maria Luisa Anida were awarded prizes, in 1989.  Scroll down to the very end of this article for selected videos of Camerata Bariloche of Argentina in performance.

No importa dónde ni cómo, la música siempre alcanza a conmovernos…No matter where nor how, music moves the strings of the heart…

This is the sentiment held dear by Paraguayan-born classical guitarist Berta Rojas, who demonstrated her ease in switching from demanding, powerhouse pieces like Ponce’s Bach-like Suite in A minor to the sweetness of his folk tune, Estrellita and Scherzino Mexicano during her concert for the New York Classical Guitar Society.  Berta Rojas has been performing solo and orchestral concerts the world over with the recent release of her album Salsa Roja (ONMusicRecordings) and is already in preparation stages with her next CD along with school tours in Paraguay following the ongoing success of her Following the Steps of Mangoré concert series and Día y medio CD, which earned her the Latin Grammy nomination with the 11-times Grammy winning Cuban clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera.

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

“Three years ago, with the Grammy nomination with Paquito, I realized it was necessary for me to give some thought as to what I wanted to do with my career,” Rojas says.  “What I want to do is be a Latin American guitarist who plays the music of my country.  And I want to support mostly Latin American composers.  This is what interests me.  I feel very comfortable with these decisions.”

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

For her Salsa Roja album, she commissioned a four-movement work, Fiesta Americana, styled after Latin American dances by British composer and guitarist Vincent Lindsey-Clark.  Guitarists David Russell, Craig Ogden, Amanda Cook and the English Guitar Quartet are among those who perform Clark’s music.

 

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

Click for iTunes® Store link to album.

Rojas had already been performing Clark’s suite, Five Pictures of Sark, and a short piece called Laura, which appeared on her Terruño album (Native Soil).

The first movement of Fiesta Americana opens with a Paraguyan galopa, with a ¾ and 6/8 cross rhythm.  The second movement, entitled Salsa Roja, is a two-bar salsa bass groove known as a tumbao.   The third movement, El vuelo de la mariposa, uses guitar harmonics to emulates the beating of a butterfly’s wings as it flies from the composer’s garden in Hampshire, England across the Atlantic and finally comes to rest in Paraguay.  The final movement, Fiesta finale, is a lively mélange derived from the composer’s experiences performing and listening to many styles of Latin American music.

Clark says, “I wrote Fiesta Americana using the guitar which is what I always do with solo pieces.  It makes them guitaristic to play but not necessarily easy, particularly with this suite, which has plenty of challenges along the way.  I compose in sections, writing it down as I go.  I will often have a beginning and an ending and enjoyed finding different ways of joining them.  Apart from Salsa Roja Berta did not have any input in the composing stage and was happy to leave it to me.  We did go over it together to make one or two slight alterations but basically she was delighted with the suite and of course that was a great relief for me.   Due to the fact that we live on different sides of the Atlantic I didn’t hear the first performance.  In fact many people in several countries heard the suite before I did.  However, Berta came to the UK on tour and I organized a concert in my hometown of Whitchurch and gathered a large audience.  She gave a great performance and the suite was very well received.

“When I heard that Berta was going to perform the New York premiere of Fiesta Americana I thought I must be there for that, so got in touch with John Olson, President the New York City Classical Guitar Society, who was very welcoming to me.  It was my first visit to New York so the combination of the two events was a wonderful experience. “

 

Composer-guitarist Vincent Lindsey-Clark with Berta Rojas. Photo credit: John Olson. Photo courtesy of Vincent Lindsey-Clark.

Composer-guitarist Vincent Lindsey-Clark with Berta Rojas. Photo credit: John Olson. Photo courtesy of Vincent Lindsey-Clark.

“Putting together an artistic product that reflects what I feel inside is important to me,” Rojas says.  “My latest project of playing the music of Paraguay with Paquito D’Rivera has been rewarding these past four years.  Maybe we will do a fifth year.  We were tracking the steps of where Austín Barrios Mangoré  performed during his lifetime, throughout twenty countries.  We have four more countries to go this year:  Haiti in April, Martinique, Havana, Cuba with a big finale in El Salvador.  With Paquito, we meet one day before a concert to rehearse because we have already performed together so much.  Playing with Paquito, it is never the same because he improvises and makes it a new experience every time.  The adrenalin onstage is always present!”

 

The concerts may likely continue, as Rojas and D’Rivera have had recent offers to present concerts in Spain, Europe and Asia.  One pressing question needed to be asked:  did Barrios leave a trace of himself at all in any of these countries?

Rojas says, “My favorite story from traveling through steps of Mangoré is what happened in Trinidad and Tobago.  In Trinidad, a man came to us at the end of the concert.  He was a very old man.  He brought with him the original program from Barrios’ first concert in Trinidad in 1936 and he gave it to me.  Unbelievable.  In Trinidad, this is even more special because Barrios did not speak any English.  His guitar and his music is all he had and so many years later it is clear how he spoke directly to someone’s heart through his music.  This is the power of music.”

The man who presented the 1936 Barrios program to Berta Rojas in Trinidad. Photo credit: María Nuñez. Photo courtesy of Berta Rojas.

The man who presented the 1936 Barrios program to Berta Rojas in Trinidad. Photo credit: María Nuñez. Photo courtesy of Berta Rojas.

Cover of 1936 Barrios concert program in Trinidad.

Cover of 1936 Barrios concert program in Trinidad.




Interior of 1936 Barrios concert program, Trinidad.

Interior of 1936 Barrios concert program, Trinidad.

Rojas also tours schools throughout Paraguay, giving concerts.  She has a traveling crew of ten people who assists with bringing in the proper staging, lighting, film/screen projection and sound in order to present the guitar in the best way possible.  “We did this for 26,000 children over 62 institutions in Paraguay within four years,” she says.  “My thinking is, no one can love what it is they are not yet aware of, so we simply go and present the guitar to these students and try to make it a fun experience.  If you do the job right, you get the applause.”

Come June, Rojas will be implementing a country-wide ideas competition as part of her school tours in Paraguay.  “We hope to reward the best ideas by students to creatively improve their communities and the entire country.  The students who come up with the best idea from a school in Paraguay, we will put them together with a mentor who will guide them to see that idea come to life.  Any idea.  So they will have to dream.

“We will have an experienced team from different fields to evaluate the various proposed student projects.  There is a saying we have, ‘If Paraguay can, you can.’  We want to tell our students that nothing in life is impossible.  You merely have to trust and apply yourself.  Classical guitar teaches you very well because it is so difficult, for example.  It requires so much precision in order to play well.  My idea is, if you put the same care into anything in life to master it—say if you can master a piece by Sor, then I believe the same energy can be applied successfully toward other endeavors as well.

Asked when she finds time to rest between all her various projects, Rojas responds, “I rest when I am playing concerts.”

Berta Rojas performing for an audience of 3000+ people at the costanera, the river walk, in Encarnacion, Paraguay. Photo courtesy of Jeisson Rodriguez.

Berta Rojas performing for an audience of 3000+ people at the costanera, the river walk, in Encarnacion, Paraguay.
Photo courtesy of Jeisson Rodriguez.

 

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Camerata Bariloche of Argentina performing La Primavera de Vivaldi:

 

Camerata Bariloche of Argentina performing Oblivion de Astor Piazzolla:

 

Preview video of Berta Rojas’ forthcoming performance with Camerata Bariloche:


For further information:  Berta Rojas’ website.

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