34th annual Grand Canyon Music Festival highlights eclectic music, performers' ties to the landscape

"Art, Nature and Devotion"

Johanna Lundy, principle horn of the Tucson Symphony, performs modern and classical music rooted in nature.

Erin Ford/WGCN

Johanna Lundy, principle horn of the Tucson Symphony, performs modern and classical music rooted in nature.

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Joe Deninzon performs his original composition “Dream Diary: Concert for 7-String Electric Violin and Orchestra” on his seven-string electric violin.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — The Grand Canyon Music Festival has been filling the South Rim with eclectic music styles for 34 years, and this year’s event was no exception.

Returning favorites like the Catalyst String Quartet and the Bonfiglio Group joined newcomers like Johanna Lundy to put on an electric show at Shrine of the Ages.

The music festival offers three weekends of performances in late August through mid-September and features traditional classical music familiar to many, like Bach, Brahms or Beethoven. But it also introduces audiences to new music they may not have heard before, such as the Latin rhythms of composers Heitor Villa-Lobos, Diego Vega, Astor Piazzolla and Alberto Ginastera played by the Catalyst String Quartet. Joe Deninzon, a regular at the festival, performed a concerto for a seven-string electric violin.

The Catalyst String Quartet also presented a concert dedicated to student compositions developed though the Native American Composer Apprentice Project. Through NACAP, students in the Hopi, Navajo and Salt River-Maricopa-Pima communities work with composers-in-residence Raven Chacon and Michael Begay to compose their own pieces rooted in their traditional Native music styles.

Clare Hoffman, who has been working with NACAP since it was founded in 2001, said one of the most rewarding parts of the project is watching the young musicians grow throughout their time in the program.

“They start in ninth grade and we have them until twelfth grade and so we see them grow and develop through the years,” she said. “You see them grow in terms of the complexity of their pieces and how they approach it (the music).”

Hoffman said she and other NACAP mentors are in communication with the students throughout the year, so they students can continue composing after the festival.

“The students are really excited to get started on their next pieces and they don’t want to wait,” she said, “so this year, we’ve started a pilot program so we can do something year-round in Tuba City. Michael (Begay) began working with the students in March, and we want to have something going all year long so the students can keep up with their music and stay sharp.”

Since 2001, more than 500 new works have been written by NACAP apprentice composers from the Navajo Nation, including Chinle, Tuba City, Kayenta, Montezuma Creek and Shiprock, as well as the Hopi Tribe and Salt River-Maricopa-Pima community. Their works have been performed worldwide, including with the New York Philharmonic’s Very Young Composers Program and American Public Media’s “From the Top at Carnegie Hall.”

Johanna Lundy, principle horn player for the Tucson Symphony, rounded out the last weekend of performances with arrangements for the solo French Horn, as well as a trio for horn, violin and piano. Lundy’s performance, titled “Art and the Natural World,” pulled inspiration from American poet Walt Whitman, whose 1855 work “Leaves of Grass” often praised the beauty and chaos of nature and the human body.

Lundy also performed a movement from Sea Eagle, by English composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Lundy said she was inspired by the parallels between the sea eagle and the Grand Canyon’s California Condors. Both large birds of prey, the sea eagle and the California condors were once hunted nearly to extinction. While the sea eagle has made a comeback, the California condor still remains endangered.

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