Chamber music redefined at Grand Canyon Music Festival

Grand Canyon Music Festival presents an evening of jazz, rock, improvisation and more tomorrow at Shrine of Ages

Above: Joe Deninzon (left) and Steve Benson interact during their performance during last year’s Grand Canyon Music Festival. Below: Robert Bonfiglio energizes the crowd at the Shrine of Ages during the same performance. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Above: Joe Deninzon (left) and Steve Benson interact during their performance during last year’s Grand Canyon Music Festival. Below: Robert Bonfiglio energizes the crowd at the Shrine of Ages during the same performance. Ryan Williams/WGCN

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. - This year's Grand Canyon Music Festival is packed with opportunities to see and hear some of the chamber music world's most exciting and interesting performers. But, included in the mix is a performance by three musicians that don't fit the traditional chamber music mold.

Robert Bonfiglio on harmonica, guitarist Steve Benson and violinist Joe Deninzon will take the stage Thursday, presenting a unique program of music featuring improvisation and intricate arrangements of jazz standards, rock and roll and more.

This year marks Deninzon's 13th appearance at the Canyon Fest. He said this year's performance will be more of a trio with Robert Bonfliglio presenting a program in tribute to Marvin Hamlisch, composer and conductor who died earlier this month after an acclaimed career scoring films, writing for the theater and winning Emmys, Oscars, Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize.

Bonfiglio, a founding director of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, has been called "the Paganini of the Harmonica" by the Los Angeles Times. He continues to perform for audiences worldwide with his constant reinvention of the harmonica, from classical concertos to the blues.

During the second half of the evening, Benson and Deninzon will again present a program of original compositions, arrangements of rock and pop songs alongside reworkings of classic jazz material.

Deninzon recently released a new recording with his band Stratospheerius. Some songs from the CD will likely make there way onto the set list as well. Deninzon has performed with the band for the last 10 years.

"That is my electric thing," Deninzon said. "We'll do acoustic versions of some of those songs mixed in with the regular jazz and blues stuff that Steve and I do. There's something for everyone."

Benson is a freelance performer who has remained active on the studio, jazz and Broadway scene for over twenty years. Comfortable in a variety of musical settings from jazz and classical music to rock, rhythm and blues, Broadway, bluegrass and klezmer music, he has performed and or recorded with artists as diverse as Phoebe Snow, John Sebastian, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Natalie Cole, Jessica Simpson, Evelyn Blakey, Nick Lachey, and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

As for what exactly will make the set list in the second half of the program, Deninzon said that could change the day of the concert.

"Expect the unexpected," Deninzon said. "I don't even know what we're going to do. I've never been big on programs. In the classical world they ask you to present to them a program a year in advance. And, I could present something and change my mind 10 times over. I love the element of the unknown."

Deninzon and Benson have spent the days prior to their concert working with Grand Canyon School music students in the School of Rock program presented by the GC Music Fest. Deninzon said this year will present a possible challenge as many of the students from past years have graduated.

"It will be building from the ground up again," he said, adding that every year during the first rehearsal, it is hard to imagine putting together a concert in four short days. "Somehow, it always comes together. That makes it fun. You feel really good when it's done because you've accomplished something."

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Deninzon has been hailed by critics as "the Jimi Hendrix of the violin" due to his innovative style on the electric seven-string violin and his compositions combining jazz and rock with Gypsy influences. Deninzon has worked with Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Phoebe Snow, Everclear, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Smokey Robinson, Robert Bonfiglio, and Les Paul among others.

Deninzon began his violin studies in the classical realm but said he was always drawn to jazz and rock and roll music. He said bringing the violin into musical worlds traditionally unassociated with his instrument provided him a unique perspective.

Deninzon, Benson and Bonfiglio take the stage Thursday at the Shrine of Ages at 7:30 p.m. The School of Rock band hit the stage at the Shrine Friday at 5 p.m. The concert is free to the community.

For tickets and more information call (928) 638-9215.

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