What a pleasant surprise it must have been for Curtis Johnson to find so many people filling Cisel Recital Hall for his senior recital on classical guitar. With just a little publicity, word of mouth and a small group of invites on Facebook, he succeeded in performing an hour-long program of works to a comfortably full Montana State University Billings recital hall last week. Not bad for a Thursday night!
The recital was presented in partial fulfillment of Johnson’s requirements for his bachelor of arts in music, with a performance option.
I first met Johnson when he was a student at the Career Center about a decade ago. He was not a student of mine, but we often exchanged small talk in passing. A few years later, we reconnected when he worked at McCormick Café. It was then that I learned he was a budding guitar player and interested in a variety of styles of music.
He soon began studying both Spanish and classical guitar at MSU Billings, the latter under the tutelage of well-known Billings guitarist Elizabeth Adcock. I was pleasantly surprised when I first heard him play at a birthday celebration for the late poet Daniel McCormack, who was a one-man welcoming committee at the front counter at McCormick Café. Daniel was a big supporter of the arts in Billings and encouraged the young Curtis Johnson to perform.
While Johnson has performed a few small gigs at galleries during Artwalk, this was his real debut. And what a tremendous job he did with some challenging and elegant guitar work. Seven of the nine pieces were performed solo, while one was a duet with Ms. Adcock, and one was with mezzo-soprano, fellow MSUB student and girlfriend Mary Elizabeth Ryan.
Pieces both elegant and festive were performed with skill acquired during his undergraduate study at MSU Billings. His command of the guitar and his level of confidence have made great leaps since that first performance at McCormick. A few of the pieces were particularly demanding, as remarked upon by my guitarist wife, who understands the risks of the fretboard better than most in the room might.
The “Two Duets for Guitar” by Ferninando Carulli was a showcase for Johnson, with his teacher providing the less-prominent support. She must have been quite proud of her student as they ended the first half of the program.
After intermission, Ms. Ryan sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Dans les ruines d’une abbaye” with her powerful mezzo-soprano voice. Perhaps more collaborations are in store for Billings classical music fans?
Those who missed out or would like to hear more will have another opportunity to hear Johnson perform on Saturday, Dec. 15. The Fieldhouse Café has been offering live music on Thursday nights recently, and has just begun presenting a morning music series during brunch on select Saturday mornings.
Johnson will perform from 9-11 a.m. The series is produced by MusEco Media & Education Project – of which, by way of full disclosure, I am a staff member.
The Fieldhouse, which features local and organic ingredients, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, and for breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturdays. For more information, visit TheFieldhouseMT.com, call 534-2556, or find them on Facebook.