By: Justin Rodriguez
Dr. Jose Antonio Lopez is a name you may or may not recognize. For those who do not know him, they will learn in this interview who he is. For those who know him, this interview might serve to give an inside view to broaden your knowledge of Lopez, from his perspective.
We met in front of the Chardón Building at the UPRM, and after finding a nice gazebo, we started the interview.
I first asked what motivated him to learn to play the guitar. He gazed upon me, and answered that two records were the ones that motivated him, “The first one titled ‘Sylvia Rexach Canta a Sylvia Rexach’, which she sang along with the guitarist Tuti Umpierre. The second was ‘Vol.1 Quique y Tomas’,which I still hear to this day.”
After starting early to appreciate guitar music, Lopez obtained a bachelor’s degree in humanities from Rio Piedras with a minor in music. He thought this was not sufficient, and with the help of Leonardo Egúrbida, went to obtain another bachelor’s degree in the Music Conservatory of Puerto Rico.
Then Lopez started his master degree at Arizona State University, which he considered “…the start of my career”. With the teachings and financial aid of Frank Koonce, the opportunity for Lopez to shine internationally was given on the trips he made to Los Angeles, California and Cuernavaca, Mexico. This experience taught him that he could do anything he wanted to, and greatly shifted his career afterwards.
While he was on his master degree, Lopez was awarded the Andres Segovia Scholarship. This granted him two years of study in Granada, Spain learning from classical guitar master Eliot Fisk.
Lopez then obtained his master degree with Summa Cum Laude, and started his doctoral degree in Indiana University School of Music. His PhD recognized him as the first Hispano-American guitarist to ever obtain a doctoral degree.
When Lopez finished his doctoral degree, he accepted the dean chair at the Conservatory of Music. According to him, this “…brought my biggest frustration, because I rejected a concert with the Moscow Symphonic Orchestra.” He considered this concert his biggest opportunity, and it coincided with his dean position he accepted.
During the interview, Lopez mentioned the companies that sponsored and helped him. López is a D’addario artist, which is an instrument string company in New York, considered by him to be the best guitar string makers on the world. Another company that sponsored him was WKAQ radio, which sponsored the advertisement on his Carnegie Hall concert.
Shortly after, Lopez left the position because it interfered with his studies and concerts.The opportunity came when he was invited to play at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York. Lopez then, on June 8, 2008, performed in a sold out concert in the Carnegie Hall, which included a repertoire of classical pieces such as “Un Sueño en la Floresta” and more popular and folkloric pieces like “Verde Luz” and Piazzolla’s “Invierno Porteño.”
Furthermore, Lopez also receives sponsorship from luthiers (string instrument makers). He has guitars from various luthiers, but of those that have sponsored him, Rafael Rosado and Fidencio Diaz are the names that stand out. From Rafael Rosado, Lopez is “…honored to have 20 of Rafael Rosado’s guitars, which is the biggest collection in the world.” Lopez also appreciates the guitars from Fidencio Diaz because he used one on his Carnegie Hall concert. Also, Fidencio lent him his 5 best guitars for Lopez to record “Flores Para Natalia”.
Apart from his career, Lopez has ventured to create the “Museo de la Guitarra”. This museum, located at Cerro las Mesas, Mayagüez is the collection of the fine guitars that Lopez possesses. The function of the museum is to provide a compendium of fine guitars to visitors, and to serve as storage for Lopez, who explained that his collection“…it completes the sonic needs that I have as a concert guitarist.”
Lopez is also founder and director of the “Concurso Nacional de La Guitarra”, which is the only classical guitar contest in Puerto Rico. The contest also offers magisterial classes, speeches and conferences during the event.
Another creation by Lopez was the CEGPR (“Centro de Estudios Guitarristicos de Puerto Rico”), also located in Cerro las Mesas, Mayagüez. The goal is to create a school for classical guitarists in Puerto Rico, where he offers classes to students from all skill levels including many future prospects (that Lopez named) such as Hermelindo Diaz.
Towards the end of the interview, I asked Lopez his thoughts on the future of music in Puerto Rico. His response was:
“This generation is fed up with the genre of ‘reggaetton’. This is a genre without instruments, and anyone with a computer can create ‘reggaetton’. This leads us to the elimination of the base of classical music because ‘reggaetton’ is easy and does not require learning any instruments. Sadly, these people will not study classical music when they have the choice because they cannot love what they do not know. That is why I am proposing a musical revolution with my courses, instead of just nagging about it.”
And with his opinion, we ended the interview with a handshake. Thanks to Dr. Jose Antonio Lopez for the time he took out of his agenda to concede me this interview.