Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 7, 2022

REVIEW: UMass Fine Arts Center, “Guitarra!” Berta Rojas

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, MA 
March 5, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran 

As the exclamation point after the title of this concert suggests, the quiet charisma and impressive virtuosity of Paraguayan guitarist Berta Rojas not only won a standing ovation from a nearly full house in the intimate Eric Carle Museum auditorium but inspired such post-show comments from satisfied concertgoers as “That was amazing!” and “How do you even do that?” 

Berta Rojas
Rojas built each half of her program around one of two preeminent women guitarist-composers of the past century. The first half honored French musician Ida Presti, who has been called “the greatest guitarist of the 20th century and possibly of all time.” In both the opening “Segovia,” Presti’s rhapsodic 1962 tribute to Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia, and “Danse Rythmique,” her joyful 1959 homage to her husband, guitarist Alexandre LaGoya, Rojas navigated the swift changes of tempo and mood with flawless dexterity and interpretive sensitivity. 

British composer-guitarist John Duarte’s 1982 “Idylle pour Ida,” commemorating Presti, and Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba’s 1924 “Sonatina,” whose first movement Presti played on her debut recording in 1938, drew equally deft performances from Rojas, especially in the Sonatina’s lush and haunting central movement, to complete the concert’s first half. 

The second half featured four compositions by Argentinian guitarist-composer Maria Luisa Anido. The gentle melancholy of her 1971 “Preludio Lejania,” the high spirits of her folklike “Aire de Vidalita,” and the mercurial colors of her “Triste No. 1” culminated in the emotional intensity of “El Misachico,” a funeral march in memory of Anido’s mother, in which Rojas added percussive effects by tapping the bridge and side of her guitar. 

Brazilian composer-guitarist Sergio Assad’s 2015 suite “Anido’s Portrait,” commissioned by Rojas, depicts in four short movements places that helped shape Anido’s life and career: Argentina, Spain, Russia, and Cuba. Rojas skillfully balanced the high energy of “Zapateado” and “Aire de Salsa” with the subtler rhythms of “Chacarera” and “Aire de Kalinka.” 

Her moving encore was a spellbinding account of her countryman Augustin Barrios’s final composition, “El Ultimo Tremolo.” The clear acoustic of the Carle auditorium, which Rojas called “a beautiful space to play guitar,” and her warmly personal spoken introductions to the music further enhanced this memorable event.