ST. BONAVENTURE, NY -- The intriguing thought of iconic rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix playing classical music had to be enough to draw the curious to the Rigas Family Theater at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Performing Arts Wednesday evening. And after the entertaining and enlightening lecture and performance, the crowd of over 100 people came away exhilarated by the showcasing of a solo electric guitar in a most unexpected classical musical program.
Introduced by university music program lecturer Laura Peterson, a friend and former undergraduate classmate at the Fredonia School of Music, Dr. Thomas Millioto, a Brooklyn-based composer and classical guitarist, performed his newly completed composition, “Suite #1 for Electric Guitar,” after explaining his decision to find a way to integrate the electric guitar into musical environments more common to classical instruments.
Relating to the audience how his classical guitar students expressed their desire to “learn how to play like Jimi Hendrix,” Millioto added he became interested himself after listening to Hendrix records.
“Hendrix at first, on the early records, did not abide by the rules. He stretched the boundaries and played things that were new and different and not the way everyone was playing the electric guitar,” Millioto explained. “On his later records he did play by the rules, but not early on. He was a master.”
Inspired, Millioto recalled asking himself: “Why don’t people play classical guitar music on the electric version when so much more can be achieved using an amplifier?"
And, he added, "I had no problem with my students playing the electric guitar. In fact I encouraged it.”
The performance of his Suite #1, which Millioto described as being built upon a template of a classic Baroque suite, included a collection of dances in five sections.
Strapping on his black-body, mother-of-pearl inlay, Gibson Les Paul guitar and standing in front of his solitary Blackstar amplifier, Millioto looked unlike a typically seated acoustic classical guitar player. His fingers danced up and down the fret-board, stretching to reach difficult chord patterns and sometimes fingerpicking beautiful melodies.
From the “Prelude” to the “Allemande” and the “Corrente” and the”’Sarabande’” and the “Gigue” finale, the listener sometimes heard those familiar riffs of the Andres Segovias of the classical world, but quickly realized that this was unlike anything they had ever experienced before as the unmistakable amplification and unique tones of the classic rock electrified instrument sang a new tune in the hands of a master player.
The program and lecture was made possible by a grant from the James J. Martine Faculty Development Endowment and was part of the Martine Performing Arts Series and the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at St. Bonaventure University.
Millioto said he intends to record the suite very soon and has asked that those interested in obtaining the work to log onto his webpage and ask to be included on a mailing list.
Editor's note: Steve Cocca, a graduate of St. Bonaventure's undergraduate program in journalism and of the master's program in education, is a former program manager of the campus radio station (then known as WOFM) and a former review editor of The Bona Venture. He retired in 2015 as a middle school social studies teacher in the Gowanda Central School District.