The intimate crowd sat captivated Sunday afternoon at Oddfellows Hall as Jose Luis Rodríguez’s lightning quick fingers strummed away on his flamenco guitar with surgical precision. But the instant Rodríguez slammed his hand on the guitar signaling the end of a song, the audience came to roaring life.
For many, the quick, percussive music rarely heard in Corvallis can be difficult to describe, said Berto Boyd, the artistic director of the Corvallis Guitar Society and longtime student and collaborator of Rodríguez. But Boyd might have figured out a way to capture Rodríguez’s talent in words.
“If you were God this is how you would play the guitar,” Boyd said. “His command of the guitar is just that ridiculous, there’s no other way to describe it.”
Rodríguez’s unique, experimental pieces brought the crowd at OddFellows Hall to its feet multiple times for standing ovations. While he may not be a household name locally, Rodríguez has steadily made a name for himself internationally with sell-out concerts in Belgium, Holland, Italy, Morocco, England and elsewhere in the United States. The concert marked the first performance in Corvallis for Rodríguez, a flamenco master originally hailing from Spain.
“When art comes to life, you move the audience,” Rodriguez said. “When you go to a concert, the concert moves you. You don’t remember exactly what they played, you remember the experience.”
It was an experience more than 12 years in the making.
Rodríguez inherited his style from the world-famous flamenco master Mario Escudero. Shortly after famed Spanish critic and poet Felix Grande named Rodríguez as one of the 20 best guitarists in Spain in 1995, Rodríguez moved to California and began teaching at area flamenco camps. It was at one of these camps in 2003 that Boyd and Rodríguez first met.
“Flamenco music is an oral tradition. It’s not written down so you just play what you can grab,” Boyd said, recalling that first meeting. “At the camp he played a piece and he only played it once. Then he said he wanted me to play it back for him. So I played it back and he said ‘you nailed it.’ And we’ve been friends ever since.”
Boyd studied closely under Rodríguez and soon began transcribing the work so that he could become a better player.
“I was the one guy at the camp that was writing out his music,” Boyd said. “It set me apart from anyone else and opened up opportunities I had never dreamed of.”
When Rodríguez found out that Boyd was able to transcribe the complex and experimental pieces, he embraced the chance to finally put his music down in the written form.
"It makes me very happy to play with (Boyd)," Rodríguez said. "He knows very well my music. He’s one of the special students I have. He makes me very comfortable."
Sunday’s concert marked a significant step for growing the love for flamenco music in the Pacific Northwest. The money raised will go toward an ambitious project that Rodríguez and Boyd are looking to complete in the next few weeks.
The pair, along with two other collaborators, recently debuted Rodríguez’s “Avalon” at the Miami Dade Auditorium. The 55 minute-long piece is the largest flamenco piece ever written. Rodríguez and Boyd have worked more than 250 hours in six months to transcribe the piece for publication in January.
“You have to be kind of crazy to be a musician of this level,” Boyd said with a laugh. “To be able to sit there and focus on something for 12 to 18 hours a day takes a crazy level of focus and determination.”
But the project is not yet complete, and with the collaborators having a few short weeks before the publication deadline, Rodríguez and Boyd left the reception Sunday afternoon and immediately headed for Boyd’s office to continue working.
“Our work isn’t nearly done,” Boyd said. “There’s at least another 100 to 150 hours we need to put in this piece by January. It’s going to be insane. But it’s also exciting. It’s a huge honor.”
“If you were God this is how you would play the guitar. His command of the guitar is just that ridiculous ...”
Berto Boyd of Corvallis, collaborator with Jose Luis Rodriguez