Alexander Dunn and Pepe Romero
When my good friend Alex Dunn asked me to put down onto paper some thoughts on our friendship, I was delighted. But what can I add of a person who has dedicated himself so completely to our instrument, and with such integrity and passion?
Alex first approached me in San Francisco, after my recital at Davies Symphony Hall, announcing that he wished to study with me. I encouraged him to audition at UCSD, which he promptly did so, and I immediately accepted him into the PhD program at the University of California, San Diego, where I taught for a number of years. From the beginning, he quickly became one of, if not my most remarkable students. Then, a series of surprises followed. He would be caught accompanying on piano – he would read from a full orchestral score, or sight-read difficult contemporary music with alarming ease. I accused him of concealing his talents.
In Salzburg, I put Alex at the front of the performances at the Mozarteum, and he came through with stunning performances of Rodrigo, Regondi, Giuliani, Bach, Villa-Lobos. I formed a group consisting of myself, my wife Carissa, Randy Pile (another one of my best students) and Alex. We played concerts in Europe and had great fun rehearsing and performing. All the while, Alex was writing a huge dissertation on Robert de Visée. I remember once after a grueling trip, I called him to see what he was doing: typically, he was drinking espresso and reading new pieces.
It was then I realized that Alex was the person to replace my brother Angel in a US tour of Los Romeros. Right before the first concert, in Los Angeles, he fell ill with seafood poisoning yet rose from bed and played perfectly. Knowing the speed at which he learned music, a kind of daredevil game developed: somehow, parts did not appear in his hands until the last minute. I remember one situation, playing Rodrigo’s Concierto Andaluz, where he didn’t have the music, which was not then published, until directly before the concert –learned literally on the plane. Another time, he flew to Chicago to perform at the Art Institute, playing brilliantly, with nerves of steel and a grand heart, and rushing back to San Diego to be at a party. I remember when he lost his music and played duos entirely from memory. He was so embarrassed to have forgotten the music that he put a blank piece of paper on the music stand and glanced at it nervously, trying to appear to be reading. Once in Salzburg, he read through a Diabelli Serenade once and then played it with me flawlessly. I can remember sending music to him around the country and he would show up at concerts utterly prepared. He could change notes, play a passage in different octaves, and meet every request on the spot.
Arrangements with my agent did not permit me to play duos with him in the US, so I began coming to Canada to perform with this amazing player. And as usual, he played as well as ever in duo repertoire, Rodrigo’s Concierto Madrigal, the Tonadilla and many others. The last time I worked with him, my wife exclaimed ‘the sheer musicianship!’
I remember Alex phoning me to say me that I should check my fax machine. There was a letter from UVic bestowing an honorary doctorate, which I cherish to this day. The following year, Alex came down to Del Mar with the UVic President and others to award and honorary degree to my father.
When I think of Alex, I think of a musician’s musician – a man who commands a vast knowledge of the repertoire. He seems to know more about lute and early music than most specialists. He plays period guitars beautifully. He moves easily between standard repertoire and contemporary pieces. His sight reading and analytical skills are phenomenal. One need only to bring up his name in the guitar world, and you will sense immediately the respect he commands. And he has developed into one of the best teachers I have known. Having heard and taught his students, I can say that he is a remarkable and gifted instructor. Canada is blessed to have a guitarist of such sterling quality and musicianship. I am proud to call him my good friend.