Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast

Robert Bonfiglio interview

March 27, 2021 Neil Warren Season 1 Episode 35
Happy Hour Harmonica Podcast
Robert Bonfiglio interview
Show Notes Chapter Markers

Robert Bonfiglio shares with us the world of the concert chromatic harmonica player.
After studying composition in New York, he spent five years under the tutelage of Chinese classical player, Cham Ber Huang, and another 12 years studying with the first flute player of the New York ballet.
Robert has been playing classical harmonica concertos since 1986, and has played in some of the great venues around the world. He has performed all the major pieces composed for the harmonica, as well as releasing some more popular recordings, which saw him spend 8 weeks on the Billboard charts in the US.
Robert reveals some of the daily practise methods he has followed to attain the high level of technical expertise that has seen him flourish in the elite world of classical music.

Select the Chapter Markers tab above to jump to different sections of the podcast.

Links:
Robert's website: http://www.robertbonfiglio.com/

Cham-Ber Huang: http://www.chamberhuang.com/

Videos:
Thais Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgJy9uwxhmE

Gerswin Medley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAWiRQ39PUQ

SPAH appearance 2013: https://youtu.be/HRp3x7t2EIc

NHL October Virtual Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiUpPyYnh_A

John Sebastien Senior: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eiV_XZUa1g


Roger Trobridge Harmonica Archivist site: http://www.the-archivist.co.uk/

Also check out the Spotify Playlist, which contains some of the songs discussed in the podcast:
https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5QC6RF2VTfs4iPuasJBqwT?si=M-j3IkiISeefhR7ybm9qIQ


Robert is from Iowa, and his father was a surgeon
Learnt harmonica as a child and then joined a High School blues band
Started playing chromatic harmonica, moving to New York to go to music school
Reason for switching from diatonic to chromatic and classical music
Still enjoyed blues harmonica when he got interested in classical
Plays some blues diatonic at the end of Classical concerts, which is well received by
Robert has felt the responsibility to build on the playing of John Sebastien (senior) and Larry Adler
Was coached for 12 years with the first flute of New York City Ballet
Learnt piano when at music school, but harmonica was always main instrument
Has a Masters degree in composition
Being accepted as a harmonica player in Classical music scene
One of conductors told Robert he was the best soloist he ever played with
Importance of a good teacher, and the tradition of this for other instruments
Making music, and the sound you make is what is important
Technical challenges of the chromatic harmonica
The purpose of teachers is to show you what works on the instrument, from their past experience
Robert has said that the harmonica is “America’s instrument”, and is such an emotional instrument
Because the harmonica is similar to human voice makes it a great solo instrument with an orchestra
Went to Trossingen in 1970, where first met Chamber Huang
Did a lot of session work after completing music school
Played first orchestra in 1986, a Henry Cowell composition
Signed to RCA records in 1988 and recorded Villa-Lobos Harmonica Concerto and performed it many times
Henry Cowell Concerto was originally written for John Sebastien Senior
Other harmonica concerto’s performed
How Robert was selected to play the harmonica concertos
What is it about the harmonica concerto’s that fit the instrument well
Bach pieces
Some of more popular music Robert plays, such as Gershwin and Elvis medley, and some diatonic
How Robert got the classical concert gigs
Runs a classical music festival at the Grand Canyon
Why Classical music concerts are so well attended
Bonfiglio Group, with an album that spent 8 weeks on Billboard Charts in US
When Robert met Toots Thielemans and how they had their different sounds for Classical and Jazz
The part improvising plays in Classical music
The genres of music that get played on the chromatic, and Robert recordings with pop singers
Favourite venue Robert has performed in
Received a Grammy for playing on Ragtime musical
Has appeared at SPAH numerous times
Phillip Achille, a UK chromatic player, and how he was impacted by decline in record sales
Ability to play with power to get the sound is key to classical playing
Robert plays the CDH model from Hohner
How to develop the powerful sound needed for classical playing is to practise scales and arpeggios and increase volume and speed
Doesn’t like to use microphones, but to play acoustically
10 minute question: scales & arpeggios, etudes, duets, work on a piece
CDH chromatic design
Embouchre demonstrations
Future plans
What has Robert been doing during lockdown
Mic used in home studio
Mics used for live performance
Blues gear used