When classical guitarist Roberto Aussel, a star of international stature, performs at the Walters Art Gallery on Sunday, March 29, it will be very hard to miss the smile adorning the face of Mike Kirkpatrick.
Mr. Kirkpatrick, 39, is president of the sponsoring Baltimore Classical Guitar Society, and the appearance of Mr. Aussel is indeed a major breakthrough for that modest group.
"Hopefully, this will legitimize our society so that we will be able to deal with other top players when they are available," Mr. Kirkpatrick said after taking time out from finalizing plans for Sunday's 3 p.m. concert.
"I certainly don't want to slight any of the other people who have played for us, but Mr. Aussel is a true virtuoso and I think this indicates our society is quite serious in bringing in the best. Now we want to continue to maintain a high level of performance."
It has not always been so. Two years ago, Mr. Kirkpatrick and four others sat down to see if a foundering little group could be rescued. "Someone who isn't even connected with the program anymore suggested I be president," he said. "To put it simply, I got drafted."
Since being pressed into service, Mr. Kirkpatrick, who may be mild in demeanor but certainly not in resolve, has upgraded the society's popular newsletter, tripled the membership, deposited a few dollars in the bank and put together a loose-knit network consisting of a couple dozen members who can be counted on to get things done.
With the help of others, he also has instituted an outreach program which furnishes amateur and professional guitarists for programs for the elderly and at schools and prisons. In addition, open recitals for young guitarists who want to play for an audience also are being organized.
"The thing that makes us a bit unique," said Mr. Kirkpatrick, "is that we have no grant funding. Our sole funding comes from dues, concert admissions and donated services."
Insufficient funding can be a heavy burden for any small organization, but classical guitarists are noted for their fervor and devotion to an instrument which long has been the subject of controversy in music circles.
There is no doubting the intricate beauty of its harmonies or the dexterity of its masters, but some purists still scorn the guitar as a "serious" instrument and point out that it has few places in orchestral or chamber settings.
The great Andres Segovia spent three-quarters of a century trying to dispel that notion and succeeded to some degree.
Guitarists now frequently play with major orchestras, and local resident Manuel Barrueco, deemed by some to be the finest performer in the world, has been scheduled to play three weekend dates (Jan. 15-17) next year with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Interest in the instrument is growing rapidly, and Baltimore has become a busy center of guitar activity.
The Peabody Conservatory has one of the finest programs for students extant, with an all-star faculty, and its alumni roster (Mr. Barrueco, David Starobin, David Tanenbaum, among others) reads like a who's who of the instrument.
The upsurge in classical interest has encouraged Mr. Kirkpatrick, an Eastern Shore native who teaches music and sells guitars out of a studio in his Catonsville home.
"We do seem to be moving forward, even though it's not easy," he said. "We're hoping for good things to come and our concert schedule for next year should be an impressive one."
The BCGS can hardly miss in having Mr. Aussel, a native of Argentina who moved to Paris and has won numerous international kudos after his talent was discovered some years back. Now 38, Mr. Aussel is at the peak of his form, according to recent reviews, and he frequently is mentioned in the same breath with Mr. Barrueco, David Russell, Christopher Parkening, John Williams and others as the foremost practitioners of the instrument today.
His program Sunday will include works of Augustin Barrios, Leo Brouwer and Francis Kleynjans. Tickets are available at the door or by calling Mr. Kirkpatrick's studio, at 242-2744.