The curse of the prodigy is not being allowed to grow up, either as artist or person. Fortunately for pianist Gustavo Romero, San Diego's most doted-upon rising musical star, the prodigy label is strictly a hometown phenomenon.
"It's only in San Diego that I am still treated as the Wunderkind . In New York, especially since I went with Columbia Management, I'm known as a young artist," said Romero.
Having appeared both as soloist and accompanist to violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman in New York City's annual summer Mostly Mozart Festival, the 22-year old Juilliard student has returned to Southern California both to visit his parents in Chula Vista and to perform a full recital Sunday afternoon at St. James Episcopal Church in La Jolla.
Although Romero left home at age 14 to study in New York City, his local fans have had ample cause to dote. At 19 he played the Brahms First Piano Concerto in Carnegie Hall, and in March made his solo New York debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall to favorable reviews. In May of this year, he was among the five finalists in Juilliard's Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, winning both a stipend and a year's scholarship at the conservatory.
Romero protested that he is really doesn't like competitions. "The whole idea of choosing somebody as best is so ridiculous, so anti-musical," he said. "Competitions are not a creative atmosphere. I entered this competition solely because it offered the scholarship." This year Romero plans to complete the final year of his undergraduate program at Juilliard.
Although he is grateful for the financial assistance and psychological support of San Diegans, Romero said leaving the area was the best thing he did for his career. "If I had waited, I would not be a pianist today. Between 14 and 18, I experienced the biggest changes in my playing. The physical things, the technique--that needs to be done early."
He keeps his local supporters happy by performing here whenever he can. "I love to play, and I learn pieces very quickly," Romero said. "Of course, I have been criticized for over-exposing myself, but I recall that the year I gave four recitals in San Diego, I did not repeat a single piece--and they were all major works."
Although Romero's emotional equilibrium would not win him a spot as a television game-show contestant, he is genuinely excited about an early fall project, playing the Rachmaninoff Third Piano Concerto on a cross-country, 17-city tour with the Orchestra of Liege.
"We'll start on Oct. 6 in Portland, play San Diego's Symphony Hall on Oct. 16, and complete the tour with a performance at the United Nations on Oct. 24, which will be televised worldwide," he said.
Romero's 4 p.m. Sunday recital will run the gamut from Scarlatti sonatas to Maurice Ravel's "Valses nobles et sentimentales." He will also play the Mozart D Minor Fantasy, which he learned for the Mostly Mozart Festival, and will end with generous helpings of Chopin and Schubert.
"I don't want ever to become a specialist," he said firmly. "Frankly, it's boring, although this generation seems to want to label performers according to their specialty. I think playing the piano is like being an actor--you've got to play many parts before you reveal anything of yourself."