GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — Celebrating its 36th year, the Grand Canyon Music Festival continues to chug uphill to the four decade mark, continuing its tradition of magical music in a magical place.
The concert series, which features talented musicians from around the country, will begin Aug. 23 and continue each weekend until Sept. 7. All performances will be held at Shrine of the Ages.
The festival has been a Canyon tradition for more than a third of the park’s existence. The idea for the festival, which began in 1983, was formed by two friends and musicians — founders Robert Bonfiglio and Clare Hoffman — on a rim-to-rim hike. The pair performed a private concert for two park rangers at the bottom of the canyon, and the concept of performers of all genres filling the canyon air with music was born.
Featuring six concerts — from chamber music to blues and jazz to modern pop performed by School of Rock students — the festival brings in artists of all kinds, according to Bonfiglio, who celebrates his birthday at the canyon each year during the festival.
“In '83 when we started this thing, my thought was that man should bring his best to this cathedral,” he said. “You bring the highest level of music into a place like this. There has to be an interconnection between art and this land. We are making a tremendous connection to this park.”
The opening performance features special guests from the festival’s past including the Newman Oltman Guitar Duo who helped Hoffman and Bonfiglio host a benefit concert in New York City to raise funds for the event’s inaugural season in 1983. During the past 36 years, Michael Newman and Laura Oltman have established the Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo as an internationally-known chamber ensemble.
Hoffman and Bonfiglio will be joining the ensemble just as they did then — the concert features past favorites like Katherine Hoover’s “Canyon Echos” and Cuban legend Leo Brouwer’s new guitar duet, “El Libro de los Seres Imaginarios (The Book of The Imaginary Beings),” a tribute to Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges. The piece was part of Brouwer’s 80th birthday international celebration for 2019.
The Catalyst String Quartet, annual performers at the festival, will once again headline August 31. The group, which was recently awarded a Grammy for their collaboration with jazz artist Cecile McLorin Salvant, will perform compositions from Florence B. Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra.
The Bonfiglio Group, featuring Bonfiglio on the harmonica, Joe Deninzon on Violin and Stephen Benson on guitar, will perform their annual concert August 30.
Crowd favorites, the Manhattan Chamber Players will round out the festival with performances September 6 and 7. Violinist Brendan Speltz, violist Luke Fleming and Cellist Andrea Casarrubios will perform symphonic classics from Beethoven, Mozart Haydn and Boccherini with special performances by both Bonfiglio and Hoffmann.
The festival also provides educational opportunities for local youth, including School of Rock and the Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP).
Each year, several Grand Canyon School students participate in School of Rock, a weeklong seminar with Bonfiglio, Deninzon and Benson designed to teach students how to play popular music. After learning a few pop songs and how to perform them in front of an audience, the students, aged sixth grade through high school, will perform a concert at the festival August 30.
Bonfiglio and co-founder Hoffman have also been reaching out to the Navajo and Hopi Nations for 20 years, integrating their musical culture into the more traditional classical music concerts of the festival. The Native American Composer Apprentice Program, started in 2001, invited youth from the Hopi and Navajo Nations to compose their own pieces of music, to be played at the festival.
This year, Navajo, Hopi and Salt River Pima-Maricopa youths interested in music have been studying with Navajo composers-in-residence Raven Chacon and Michael Begay for several months and will have their original works played by the Catalyst Quartet during a concert September 1.
“The first year we started NACAP, we had maybe four kids,” Bonfiglio said. “By the second year, there were 20 kids. There were so many that we started doing a special day on Sundays just for them.”
With the idea of making the festival accessible to everyone who loves music, there is no general admission charge. Guests will instead be asked to make a donation to the festival in the suggested amount of $15 for adults and $10 for children, based on previous general admission ticket prices. However, guests may give any amount they wish. Season tickets for all six concerts are available for a suggested donation of $90.
More information about the festival is available at www.grandcanyonmusicfest.org.