A Legacy of Her Own
Since completing her latest album in 2022, guitar professor Berta Rojas has experienced both career highs and uncertainty. Her album, Legado (meaning “Legacy” in Spanish), is a tribute to guitarists and composers Ida Presti (France, 1924–1967) and Maria Luisa Anido (Argentina, 1907–1996). The album’s dozen tracks include works penned by or dedicated to Presti and Anido, both pathfinders for women in the classical guitar field.
“Legado was a powerful way for me to share the story of women who—in spite of difficulties they confronted in their day—went ahead with what they felt called to do and had fantastic careers,” says Rojas. “I wondered why these and other women of the guitar were not more revered and wanted to start a conversation about them.”
Rojas did indeed begin the conversation by making an album that ultimately netted two Latin Grammy Awards. (Notably, fellow Berklee professor Randy Roos served as the album’s recording engineer.) Legado was named Best Classical Album for 2022 and “Chacarera,” a movement from the suite Anido’s Portrait, which Rojas commissioned from Sergio Assad, won the award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition.
“The guitar is my instrument and there is nothing I do with it that is not deeply felt.”
The Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in November was a triumph for Rojas, ending a year that earlier looked a bit bleak after her irreplaceable Michael O’Leary guitar, valued at around $20,000, was stolen from a car prior to her April 2022 concert in Cleveland, Ohio. The night before flying to Cleveland, Rojas had felt impressed to record the final track of Legado in her home studio despite fatigue after teaching all day. After the guitar was taken, Rojas felt at least some consolation knowing all tracks on the album featured the same instrument. But losing her constant musical companion of more than 14 years was devastating. Rojas had publicly stated that if she got the guitar back, no questions would be asked, and after two agonizing months it was unexpectedly and fortuitously returned to her.
The Latin Grammy was a boost both career-wise and personally for Rojas. “Feeling embraced by the academy and my colleagues who have sold millions of records, and their embrace of this story about these women, was very rewarding for me,” she says.
Becoming the first person from her native Paraguay to earn a Latin Grammy was cause for celebration there. On March 17, when she returned home, Paraguay’s minister of Foreign Affairs bestowed upon her the Gran Cruz, a high honor recognizing those who have made significant contributions to Paraguay’s cultural heritage. She will return later this year for a series of concerts.
Rojas feels her life has been blessed in multiple ways, including the dialectic she enjoys with her students and faculty peers. “I am living in really happy and creative times at Berklee,” she shares. “Teaching here since 2017 has given me a chance to learn about jazz, and crossing the paths of classical and jazz has brought a lot to my music. The guitar is my instrument and there is nothing I do with it that is not deeply felt. All this has happened as a result of my sincere love for music.”
This article appeared in the spring/summer 2023 issue of Berklee Today.