The Belgian guitarist, Raphaëlla [Raphaella] Smits, grew up in an artistic family. Her father René Smits is a sculptor and an amateur violinist. Her mother Carolien Van Giel was a teacher in the Waldorf kindergarden and an amateur pianist. Her brother Johan Smits was a professional violinist. During her childhood, she enjoyed singing in a choir and participated in several productions in the Royal Flemish Opera of Antwerp. At the Waldorf school she learned to play the whole family of the recorders (the vertical flutes soprano, alto, tenor and bass). Seeing that she enjoyed singing so much, her parents bought her a guitar to accompany herself. At the age of 13 she went to study guitar with Victor Van Puyenbroeck at the music academy in Mechelen. Besides guitar, there she got also courses of solfège, music history, chamber music, etc. She continued with the same teacher at the Kunsthumaniora (secondary school focused on the arts) and after that at the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp: 7 years all together. Victor Van Puyenbroeck encouraged Raphaëlla to take part in the summer classes of José Tomàs at the "Catedra Andrès Segovia" in Spain. She was 16. She spent five consecutive summers with Tomàs in Alicante and in Santiago de Compostella. The importance of José Tomàs was enormous. He was a fantastic musician and in a way the go-between to connect his students with old masters like De Falla, Manén, Mompou, Rodrigo, Andrés Segovia, Torroba, Turina, ... And it was 'Pepe' who made Raphaëlla a firm believer of the qualities of an eight-string guitar.
During those years - the 1970’s - Raphaëlla Smits went on singing in different choirs, she learned to play the traverse flute and the lute, and followed a guitar master-class with Oscar Ghiglia in Paris. She got interested in Early Music and attended enthousiastically lectures, classes and concerts by pioneering people like Jos van Immerseel, René Jacobs, the Kuijken brothers, Konrad Junghänel, Eugen M. Dombois, and many others. In 1979 she went to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels with the teachers Albert Sundermann and Jef Goor. There she got her concert diploma in 1981. At that time she was giving her first recitals and became a persuasive advocate of the eight-string guitar.
In 1986 Raphaëlla Smits was the first woman to win the first prize of the "XX Certamen Internacional de Guitarra Francisco Tarrega", the famous international guitar competition in Benicasim, Spain. That victory confirmed the progress of a successful career, which over the previous years had included prizes in the Granada and Palma de Mallorca contests. Chairmen Andrés Segovia and Narciso Yepes, both expressed their admiration for Raphaella's musicality and put prophetically confidence in her future achievements.
Raphaëlla Smits plays worldwide in her unique way on eight-string guitars and historical instruments. Recognized as ‘an uncommonly musical guitarist’ (Tim Page, New York Times), she always commits to the soul of the music. Her solo recitals as well as her performances with the most distinguished colleagues always meet enthusiastic audiences and press.
Besides stage-work Raphaëlla Smits has made 5 LP's and since 1986 for Accent Records 12 CD's, many of them being listed as indispensable to refined music lovers.
Raphaëlla Smits is internationally praised as an inspiring teacher for both guitar and chamber music. In addition to her chair at the Lemmens Institute in Belgium, she regularly gives master-classes in West and East Europe, in North and South America and in Japan. Organizers of international music competitions ask her as a member of the jury because of her ability to listen and to judge so accurately. Here again she shows her talent to combine professional skills with a great sense of empathy.
Today Raphaëlla Smits is called quite rightly ‘une Grande Musicienne’ and ‘one of the most delicate and most cultivated performers of our time’ (Jean Bernard, Diapason, France).