Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church in La Jolla hosts concert series by Odeum Guitar Duo

Once a month at Mt. Soledad Presbyterian Church, one can hear refined and exotic strumming coming from a great hall whose arched windows and columned terrace overlook rolling green hills. As the warm calm of the evening falls and night sounds can be heard through opened doors, eyes come to rest on two decades-old guitars, made by master luthiers, in the hands of two maestros, taught by the masters. Here, delighted local fans gather regularly to drink in the old-world sound experience and understated visual display of the Odeum Guitar Duo.

Their next concert is 7 p.m. Saturday, July 15 at the church, 6551 Soledad Mountain Road. Titled “Of Northern European and Mediterranean Origins,” the program features a retrospective of the Baroque, Classical, and 20th-Century periods, with works from Bach, Haydn, Guiseppe Torelli, Fernando Sor, Ferdinand Carulli, Manuel Ponce, Antonio Lauro and Ida Presti. Tickets are $5, $8 and $10 at the door.

One of La Jolla’s resident musical treasures, the Odeum Guitar Duo is composed of Fred Benedetti and Robert Wetzel, who together have been perfecting their craft for more than 25 years. They are master guitarists who were mentored by the legendary Spanish artists who shaped classical guitar, Andrés Segovia and the Romero family, respectively.

Still mindful, even humbled, by these rapports, the Duo carries on the legacies of their mentors — showing off their signature techniques, featuring their repertoires and transcriptions and, on occasion, relating colorful anecdotes from their lives. To date, the group has released two CDs, the award-winning “Concert Hall Classics” (1999) and “Forgotten Romance” (2000) — both with new and original works. They are performing a series of 12 concerts (solo and duo guitar) at the Mt. Soledad church.

For fans, the story of how Benedetti was shaped as a guitarist is familiar. From age 9, he was taught by his father and, ultimately and profoundly, by the “Grandfather of Classical Guitar” Segovia. Benedetti developed as a raw talent around San Diego, notably, in Balboa Park in front of the koi pond where he played his first paying gig (for tips!). But, in 1986, he was discovered — chosen as one of 12 students worldwide to attend a Segovia masterclass at the University of Southern California. In this environment, he dazzled his new teacher and the public, which would come to include foreign dignitaries and accomplished musicians of the time. Now a father (and recent grandfather), Benedetti is a tenured music professor at Grossmont College and Head of Classical Guitar Studies at San Diego State, and he receives accolades by night at some of the City’s most iconic venues.

Wetzel, has not been as known to fans. The maestro took shape as a guitarist outside his immediate family and, rather, as the protégé of the Romeros, known as the “Royal Family of the Guitar.” At age 12, he took up guitar after being gifted a Sears & Roebuck Silvertone by his oldest sister. He was quick to master the instrument, and, when finally surpassing local teachers, he was given the chance to play for Celedonio Romero and his three sons (Celin, Pepe, and Angel) who were on national tour.

Wetzel’s playing so impressed the Romeros that he was invited to spend summers in Del Mar under their tutelage, and he received scholarships to attend masterclasses conducted by Pepe. He was hosted by the family as an adoptive member, affectionately called “little brother” and also “Roberto Antonio” (a Spanish stage name that Celedonio would encourage). Wetzel later made his career debut standing in for Celedonio at a public engagement of the Romero’s world-famous quartet in northern California. He continues to show deep commitment to his music as a teacher at community colleges and universities, and as performance artist soloing and participating in ensembles around town.

When the two student-masters finally played together in a chance booking at a San Diego harbor venue, they found instant, natural artistic chemistry and purpose. Like their masters, they are messengers of the music. They are transcribers of past canonical works not originally written for the guitar — an instrument that has not always found favor in high art. They look to reclaim the guitar and to explore the potential musicality of duo performance with this fine instrument. But, in tandem with the traditions they serve, they also manage to appeal to modern sensibilities with joy, warmth, and even light humor that unexpectedly surround their work and performance.

For more details, call (858) 248-9300 or visit odeumguitarduo.com

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