Creating and Performing To Bring People Together


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Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Salazar
 By Doug Maine

Virtuoso Spanish classical guitarist, Daniel Salazar, Jr. has always been driven to create and perform, and when he has, he’s been surprised and gratified to see how music can uplift people and bring them together.
“In general, I think every artist creates because the artist has a passion, almost a necessity, to create,” Salazar said. “This need to do it is just part of something inside wanting to come out and then, once you get it out there, you discover that people really like it and appreciate it, and it’s a surprise really.
“Then you realize that by sharing the passion, it really does a lot of wonderful things. I think music really brings people together,” he said.
Salazar’s drive and passion are behind two long-running annual concerts that are staples of the Hartford-area cultural calendar. He directs and performs in the Valentine’s Day-inspired “Romance de la Guitarra,” held each February at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, and the free “Guitar Under the Stars” concert, held in late summer on the Mortensen Riverfront Plaza in Downtown Hartford.
Romance de la Guitarra, now in its 13th year, features Salazar and his 10-member ensemble, which includes another classical guitarist plus a flutist, keyboardists and percussionists. They perform Salazar’s original music as well as unique arrangements of selections by composers such as Lara, Albéniz and de Falla that combine flamenco, Latin and world rhythms with the Spanish classical guitar.
This year’s concert, to be held Friday, Feb. 14, will also feature solo performances by guitar virtuoso Lorena Garay, flamenco singer Alfonso Cid, from Spain, and flamenco dancer Yohanna Escamilla.
Guitar Under the Stars, which annually draws thousands of listeners and picnickers to the city’s riverfront, began modestly – and indoors – when a conductor friend from Spain who was working at a local church suggested doing a concert for guitar and orchestra.
“We put up little flyers and posters and it was free and nobody got paid and people came, maybe a hundred people, and we were just thrilled,” Salazar said. “The idea was we want to do this because it’s something we enjoy and we don’t get to perform this music together.”
A year later they did a second concert and the audience was even bigger. “Eventually, we did it a third year and we got a grant and so the musicians got $25 or something like that, and it grew from there,” ultimately moving to the riverfront, he said.
After 20 years of Guitar Under the Stars, Salazar said people tell him they met their spouse or developed enduring friendships as a result of attending the concerts. “So many relationships have grown, not only because of my event, but because of the power of music to unite,” he said.
What keeps him doing it year after year is his passion for the music, “and that realization that music really does enhance people’s lives,” he said. “It’s quite a unique thing when you think about it, and you feel so humble because I’m just promoting music… There’s this great demand for music, and musicians know that by sharing it, it’s just going to make people feel better.”
Guitar Under the Stars relies more on corporate sponsors and donors because it’s a free event and a large production that involves an orchestra and several different performing ensembles. Although Salazar is involved in the fundraising, he said most of it is done by Riverfront Recapture.
He collaborates with the University of St. Joseph on the Romance de la Guitarra concerts, which is largely funded through ticket sales.
Salazar also teaches at the University of Connecticut and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and has performed with his ensemble and as a guest soloist in North America and as far afield as Europe and South America and has made three recordings to date.
Salazar grew up bilingual in El Paso, Texas, with family and friends on both sides of the Río Grande. He began playing the guitar as a teenager, mostly rock ‘n’ roll and other popular music, before beginning his formal studies at 17.
“I first heard the Spanish classical guitar and I just decided it was something I would like to do. I was moved by it,” he said.
He completed his undergraduate studies in music performance at the University of Texas. “By that time I was already performing,” he said. In 1982, he came to Connecticut and earned a master’s degree at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music.
At the time, guitarist Oscar Gighlia, a highly regarded student of the legendary Spanish guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia, was an artist-in-residence at Hartt. Salazar had the opportunity to meet and attend a master class with Segovia in New York during his last visit to the United States. Salazar also spent a few summers studying the guitar in Spain.
“The guitar as we know it was developed in Spain,” where its dimensions were adopted by the late-19th century, he said. “Other guitar-like instruments were played in other parts of Europe.”
“Spanish classical defines the style of music I play and the instrument,” he said. “It is meant to be played properly, preserving its natural sound, and it includes elements of flamenco as well.”
Romance de la Guitarra will be presented at 8 p.m. Feb. 14, at the University of Saint Joseph’s Hoffman Auditorium. Tickets are available at the university’s Frances Driscoll Box Office by phone at 860-231-5555, or online at