CLEVELAND — The debut Cleveland performance by Paraguayan classical guitarist Berta Rojas, delayed once by a pandemic shutdown in 2020, was nearly derailed once again by a thief. Friday, the Latin Grammy nominated musician’s prized guitar was stolen from a friend’s car in Ohio City.
“I’ve played that instrument for 14 years now. It’s been with me in more than 200 concerts that I played in maybe 60 countries - always with the instrument,” she said.
Rojas, an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, had just finished with educational outreach at several schools when she stopped for lunch with members of the Cleveland Classical Guitar Society (CCGS) at a restaurant near Bridge Avenue and West 32nd Street Friday afternoon. After the meal, the group found smashed windows on their car around parked just outside and the guitar inside missing. The incident was reported to police around 2:45 p.m.
“I couldn’t say anything. It was very sad,” Rojas said.
Erik Mann, the executive director at CCGS, added, “[We felt] just absolute dread because Berta had just been talking about how special this instrument was.”
The six-string, custom made instrument by renowned Irish guitar maker Michael O’Leary in 2008, was worth an estimated $15,000. Even with the wear and tear from 14 years of playing, the instrument was priceless to Rojas.
“For an artist, the instrument is an extension of your body. It’s like your arm or your voice,” she said. “I’m still very attached to the sound of the instrument, for the maturity it has from 14 years of playing it.”
The guitar accompanied Rojas around the world, was used on three Latin Grammy Award nominated albums and helped bring her comfort during a cancer battle.
“I used to go to chemotherapy and I would come back home,” she said. “And we would spend many hours together just practicing, hoping that health would be on my way again.”
Rojas does not plan to press charges and said no questions will be asked if the guitar is returned. CCGS is offering a $1,000 reward for its return.
“We’ve been waiting years for her to come play a concert in Cleveland. She’s going to do that tonight on a guitar that is a loaner, fortunately. We just feel terrible about this instrument and we’re going to find a way to get this guitar back,” said Mann.
Rojas played with a borrowed guitar for an audience at Plymouth Church in Shaker Heights Saturday. She said the theft in Cleveland has not soured her impression of Northeast Ohio and she believes Clevelanders can help her reunite with her guitar.
“At the airport when I arrived, I saw a giant guitar there and I knew from the beginning that this is a musical place,” she said. “And I ask you, if you can give us any leads about the instrument, how to find it, that you could help us locate the instrument…we can continue on the road sharing adventures with it, and bringing joy and love and peace.”
If you have any information about the missing guitar, contact CCGS at 216-905-9348 or the Cleveland Police Department.
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