Our 2016 Artists’ Biographies
MICHAEL BEGAY. composer, guitarist, radio producer, writer. A graduate of Grey Hills Academy in Tuba City on the Navajo Nation, Mr. Begay was one of the first graduates of the Grand Canyon Music Festival’s Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP), Mr. Begay studied recording arts at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences in Tempe and has worked at Native American radio station KGHR, a National Public Radio affiliate, as a producer and music writer for six years, and has worked in the studio with Grammy award winner Verdell Primeaux, all the while continuing to compose. He joined NACAP as a volunteer assistant composer-in-residence in 2006, working closely with Raven Chacon. He continues studying composition with Mr. Chacon, and officially joined NACAP as assistant composer-in-residence in 2007.
STEPHEN BENSON, guitar. Stephen 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 people as diverse as Phoebe Snow, John Sebastian, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Natalie Cole, Jessica Simpson, Evelyn Blakey, Nick Lachey, and The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and The American Symphony Orchestra. He toured Europe as a member of the Giora Feidman Trio, performing at the Carnevale in Venice, Italy, for two years. He currently performs on Broadway in the orchestra pits of The Lion King, Chicago, Mary Poppins and Hair. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Connecticut, and a Masters of Music from Manhattan School of Music. He has taught at the Hartt School of Music and the Turtle Bay Music School. He is currently on the jazz faculty at Montclair State University in New Jersey and lives in New York City with his wife and 17 year old twins.
ROBERT BONFIGLIO, harmonica, is founding director of the Grand Canyon Music Festival. Called “the Paganini of the Harmonica” by the Los Angeles Times, Robert Bonfiglio dazzles audiences worldwide with his constant reinvention of the harmonica, from classical concertos to sizzling blues. Mr. Bonfiglio regularly performs with the world’s top orchestras, including the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, Leipzig MDR-Radio Symphony at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Buenos Aires Philharmonic at Teatro Colón, Bochumer Philharmoniker in Germany, the Mexico City, Luxembourg, and Hong Kong Philharmonics, and orchestras throughout the U.S. including the Boston Pops with John Williams on PBS, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh Symphony under the baton of Marvin Hamlisch. His RCA recording of the Villa-Lobos Harmonica Concerto was released to critical acclaim and his “Through the Raindrops” CD remained on the pop billboard charts for 9 months. Robert has appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, CBS Morning Show, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, Larry King, and Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Show. He holds a masters degree in composition from Manhattan School of Music, studying with Charles Wuorinen and, as the first recipient of the Mihaud Scholarship at the Aspen Music School, Aaron Copland. He has also performed at the legendary Teatro Amazonas in Brazil, and the Henry Cowell Harmonica Concerto with the American Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Botstein. He is currently working on a project to bring the music of Brazilian composer Radamés Gnattali to the stage.
RAVEN CHACON, is a composer of chamber music, a performer of experimental noise music, and an installation artist. He performs regularly as a solo artist as well as with numerous ensembles in the Southwest USA, and is also a member of the American Indian arts collective Postcommodity. Most recently he was commissioned by Kronos Quartet to compose a work for their Fifty For The Future project. Chacon has presented his work in different contexts at Vancouver Art Gallery, ABC No Rio, Chacon Canyon, REDCAT, Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, SITE Santa Fe, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, Ende Tymes Festival and The Kennedy Center.
JOE DENINZON, violin. Joe Deninzon has been hailed by critics as “The Jimi Hendrix of the Violin”, because of his innovative style on the electric seven-string violin and his compositions combining jazz and rock with Gypsy influences. A musician who transcends many genres, he has worked with Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Phoebe Snow, Everclear, Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Robert Bonfiglio, and Les Paul among many others. He has also performed as a solo electric violinist with the New York City Ballet for Richard Einhorn’s “Red Angels.” and has performed, co-written, and musically directed the of Broadway show, “Spider Dance” with percussionist Alessandra Belloni. Joe is the lead singer and violinist for the band, Stratospheerius, who have released their fifth CD, “The Next World,” on Steve Vai’s Digital Nations label, and were named “Best Jam Band” in the Musician’s Atlas Independent Music Awards. He can be heard on over a hundred CD’s and jingles as a violinist and string arranger. A 12-time BMI Jazz Composer’s grant recipient and a winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, his original music has been featured on CMT, MTV VH1, Comedy Central, National Geographic, the Travel Channel, the History Channel, and the Will Ferrell/Adam McKay-produced film “Virginity Hit”. Joe has released a CD with his Acoustic Jazz Trio, entitled “Exuberance”. He is also a member of the Sweet Plantain String Quartet, which combines classical, jazz, hip-hop, and Latin styles. As an educator, he has contributed to Downbeat, Strings, and Making Music Magazine, has given clinics and Master Classes around the world, and has taught at Mark O’Connor’s String Camp and Mark Wood’s Rock Orchestra Camp. Joe co-founded the Grand Canyon School of Rock in 2007. In 2012, Joe published his first book Mel Bay. Titled, “Plugging In.” The book explores improvisation, gear, and techniques for electric violin.
“As at home in the world of Grappeli and Oconner as he is in the world of Steve Vai and Jimi Hendrix, Joe Deninzon may very well be our next national violin treasure!!”-Jedd Beaudoin
CLARE HOFFMAN, flute. Co-founder and artistic director of the Grand Canyon Music Festival, Clare Hoffman has toured the United States, Europe and Asia, performing in a variety of settings from major concert halls to an ancient ampitheatre on the Greek island of Rhodes. Recent engagements include the Berkshire Bach Society (Tanglewood), Bang on a Can Festival (Lincoln Center), Cutting Edge (New York City, Victoria Bond, director), Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra (Lincoln Center’s Great Performers series), Scandia Symphony, and Bronx Arts Ensemble. She has premiered works by John Corigliano, Seymour Barab, Brent Michael Davids, Arnold Black and Richard Einhorn and recorded for television, film, and RCA and High Harmony Records. Ms. Hoffman’s 2001-2002 season included working with Music Givers, an organization founded by musicians after September 11, 2001, to offer their talents to the relief efforts in the New York City area. Under her guidance, the Grand Canyon Music Festival has been presenting critically acclaimed musicians and outreach education programs to schools in northern Arizona’s rural areas, primarily schools and communities on the Hopi and Navajo Nations, for 28 years, and received funding and recognition from diverse organizations, including the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, WESTAF, and The Nina Mason Pulliam, Flinn, Compton, ASCAP, and APS Foundations. She is a dedicated advocate for the arts and has worked throughout the United States with students from diverse backgrounds, from inner-city schools in places like Los Angeles and New York City to farming communities in Iowa and Native American communities in Arizona. Her education projects for the Grand Canyon Music Festival include an arts curriculum for fifth graders that integrates music and visual arts with core subjects, developed with Arts Vision and Bank Street College of Education, and the Native American Composer Apprentice Project (NACAP) with composers-in-residence Raven Chacon and Trevor Reed, which was recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities with a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. She taught at the Turtle Bay Music School in New York City where she developed curriculum for the Flute Certificate Program, and is currently on the faculty of Concordia College Conservatory in Westchester, New York. She studied at the Mannes College of Music with Andrew Lolya, at L’École d’Été in France with legendary French flutists Jean-Pierre Rampal and Alain Marion, and with Samuel Baron and Julius Baker.
GARY STROUTSOS. In the tradition of one of his mentors, jazz flutist Paul Horn, who in the 1960s journeyed inside the Taj Majal and the pyramids to make music with these pillars of time, Gary Stroutsos creates odysseys of sound with the world of nature. Gary Stroutsos performs world flute music drawn from many traditional cultures. Evoking a spirit of place and the voices of the land, his work includes internationally-acclaimed recordings at sacred sites, using the unique acoustics and history of each great space as the starting point for musical exploration: A shared moment in a timeless place, where flute melodies, ancestral and modern, play off one another and songs come alive, buoying and breathing through the generations.
Originally trained as a Jazz flutist (studying with Jazz master flutist and composer James Newton, and Afro-Cuban flute master Danilo Lozano), Stroutsos’ work now features American Indian music, as well as Chinese, Cuban and American Jazz stylings – all styles and traditions reflecting his diverse musical influences. His audiences have the rare opportunity to hear ancient Chinese Bamboo flutes, the Xiao and Dizi, seldom heard outside the walls of China, and has created an interest in these flutes among both modern flute players and flute makers. However, Gary Stroutsos has become perhaps best known for his haunting work on the Native American Flute, and is acknowledged to have made a significant contribution to the preservation of American Indian music and culture. Himself a Greek-Italian-American, Stroutsos has had the rare opportunity to journey into the indigenous cultures and communities of North America, where he learned how to play the Native American Flute. During this time, Lakota, Mandan-Hidatsa, Navajo and Salish Kootenai Elders asked him to set their songs to his flute, which has undoubtedly been invaluable in the development of insight and the character of authenticity that his recordings embody. He has worked and recorded with many American Indian artists, including collaborating with Navajo flute maker Paul Thompson, a work which expresses the enduring legacy of the American Indian flute and its recent reintroduction into today’s society. Stroutsos has brought his music and his stories to audiences throughout North America, as well as in Japan and Korea. He can be heard on the soundtrack of Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, Lewis and Clark: Journey of the Corps of Discovery, which led to a command performance at the White House for President Bill Clinton. He is also showcased on Jan Nickman’s Living Temples, an intimate study of man’s relationship to nature. Gary has been featured on NPR broadcasts, New York Evening at the Pops, and the syndicated radio program Echoes. His CDs Distant Shores, Winds of Honor, The Native Heart, and Echoes of Canyon de Chelley, with Navajo Elder Paul Thompson, have received national acclaim as benchmark recordings of Native American flute music. Stroutsos has also released a number of recordings aimed at the preservation of Native story, music and culture: People of the Willows, The Elder Speaks, and Heart of the Bitterroot: Voices of Salish & Pend d’Oreille Women, which all exemplify his understanding of not only the cultural context, but of the muse and spirit of the people’s voices he complements. In his latest project, he is featured in a documentary, Remembering the Stories, portraying the lives of American Indian Flute masters largely unknown to American or International audiences outside Native American circles. Through interviews, performance and narration, viewers are offered a rare glimpse into the heart of American Indian culture, past and present. In over thirty recordings, including a number of recordings made on location from the plains of the Dakotas, to the canyon lands of the Southwest, to the shores of the Pacific Coast, Stroutsos has created a body of work which expresses a passion for sound traveling: Music without borders.
TREVOR REED, NACAP composer-in-residence. A native of Seattle, Washington, Trevor Reed began his involvement with music as a double bassist. He received first prize in the Washington State Solo Competition for three consecutive years, and later as a finalist in the All American Music Festival solo competition. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in composition from Brigham Young University. He recently completed his Masters Degree in Arts Administration Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and has been accepted into Columbia University’s Doctoral Program.. Among Reed’s achievements in composition are first prize in the Vera Hinckley MayHew Composition Competition and a grant from the Laycock Center for Creative Collaboration to produce a new work for orchestra. A tribute to his Hopi culture, the orchestral piece marked an important milestone in Reed’s goal of incorporating indigenous elements into concert music. Reed is currently Research Coordinator at the Research Center for Arts and Culture, where his team is conducting the first national study of living American composers.
CATALYST QUARTET Hailed by The New York Times at their Carnegie Hall debut as “invariably energetic and finely burnished…playing with earthy vigor,” the Catalyst Quartet, prize winners of the Gianni Bergamo Classical Music Award 2012 (Switzerland), is comprised of top Laureates and alumni of the internationally acclaimed Sphinx Competition.
“Electrifying… Wildly colorful and exploding with life” The Washington Post. The quartet has held residencies and given master classes both domestically and abroad at the University of Michigan, Rice University, Cincinnatti Conservatory of Music, In Harmony Project; London, UK and the University of South Africa to name a few. They also serve as principal faculty at the Sphinx Performance Academy at Oberlin College and Northwestern University. The Catalyst Quartet members are visiting teaching artists at the Sphinx Preparatory Music Institute, hosted by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Catalyst Quartet has also participated in the Juilliard String Quartet Seminar, Grand Canyon Music Festival, Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival and been featured in The Strad and Strings magazines including multiple radio and television broadcasts on American Public Media’s Performance Today as well as Chicago (WFMT) Houston (KUHF) Public Radio and Detroit Public Radio and Television. The Quartet maintains a busy performing schedule and completed a national tour in the fall leading the Sphinx Virtuosi. Highlights of the tour included concerts at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., opening the 10th anniversary season of the Harris Theater in Chicago, sold out performances at Miami’s Frank Gehry designed New World Center, and New York’s Carnegie Hall (Stern Auditorium) with members of the legendary Guarneri Quartet. They can also be heard this season on the Cafe Series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Catalyst Quartet proudly endorses Pirastro strings. www.pirastro.com
SWEET PLANTAINArtfully fusing the western classical traditions in which they were trained with the hip-hop, jazz improv, and Latin rhythms on which they were raised, Sweet Plantain’s unique repertoire and live shows educate and entertain. Through original compositions and arrangements, and with their use of extended percussive techniques, Sweet Plantain awakens audiences to new possibilities in chamber music. Separately hailing from The Bronx, New Jersey, and Venezuela, together these musicians give voice to a sound that is contemporary, multicultural, and very New York.Since 2007, Sweet Plantain’s extensive touring has included performances throughout the United States, Europe, Russia, and the Caribbean, ranging from concerts in Russia’s historic Tchaikovsky Concert Hall to gigs at NYC’s famed Birdland jazz club. Gifted educators, the group has also led master classes, educational concerts, and held teaching residencies at Berklee College of Music (Boston), the 92nd Street Y (Manhattan), Celia Cruz High School (the Bronx), the Sun Valley Center for the Arts (Idaho), Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (Alaska), and at numerous other schools and cultural centers throughout the U.S.
ED MELL, visual artist. Born in Phoenix, Mr. Mell graduated from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration. He began his career in New York as an art director for a prominent advertising agency. He also ran his own illustration studio in New York in the early seventies. After spending two summers working with children’s arts programs on the Hopi Indian Reservation, he developed his interest in Southwest landscape. Mr. Mell returned to Phoenix in 1973. He devotes his full time to working in oils, his main emphasis on Western landscapes and subject matter. In addition, he paints southwestern florals and sculpts western figures in bronze. His pieces are found in many corporate and private collections nationally and internationally.