Robert Bonfiglio

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Robert Bonfiglio (born September 6, 1950)[1] is an American classical harmonica player. Described by the music critic for the Los Angeles Times, as "the Paganini of the harmonica",[2] he is known for his many recordings and live performances featuring the instrument.

Early life and education[edit]

Bonfiglio was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the son an orthopedic surgeon, and raised in Iowa City, Iowa. He first began playing the diatonic harmonica when he was thirteen, and although he played in local blues bands as a teenager, had no plans to become a professional musician. He enrolled in the University of Arizona to study chemistry, but at the same time became interested in the possibilities of the chromatic harmonica. After travelling to Trossingen, Germany, in the 1970s where he attended a seminar by the master harmonica player, Cham-Ber Huang, he decided on a musical career. He enrolled in Mannes College of Music in New York City, studying composition. Mannes, like the other major music conservatories in the United States at the time, did not offer majors in the harmonica. However, Bonfiglio also studied the classical harmonica with Cham-Ber Huang for five years and was coached privately by Andrew Loyla, the Principal Flautist with the New York City Ballet orchestra for over ten years. During this time he added all the existing classical music composed for the harmonica to his repertoire.[3][4] After receiving his Bachelor of Music from Mannes, Bonfiglio went to post-graduate study at the Manhattan School of Music. It was his composition teacher there, Charles Wuorinen, who told him he could do more with the classical harmonica than with composition because it was such a special niche.[1]


After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music with his Masters in Music, Bonfiglio supported himself as a session musician in New York working on commercials and soundtracks for television programs and films, including the soundtracks for Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart. His breakthrough as a concert artist came in 1986 when he performed the world premiere of Henry Cowell's Harmonica Concerto with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Lukas Foss.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Bonfiglio is married to the flautist Clare Hoffman. The couple founded the Grand Canyon Music Festival in 1984 and continue to serve as its artistic directors.[5]


Bonfiglio's recordings include:

  • Villa-Lobos: Harmonica Concerto, Bachianas Brasileiras, with the New York Chamber Symphony, RCA Victor, 1989
  • Through the Raindrops, High Harmony Records, 1992
  • Live at the Grand Canyon, High Harmony Records, 1994. Recorded at the Grand Canyon Music Festival in September 1993 and September 1994.


  1. ^ a b Caso, Frank (2002). "Bonfiglio, Robert". Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Gale Group. Retrieved online via 12 June 2014.
  2. ^ Swed, Mark (January 12, 1998), "A Big-Time Opener for Little Festival". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 June 2014
  3. ^ a b Field, Kim (2000-04-25). Harmonicas, harps, and heavy breathers: the evolution of the people's instrument. Cooper Square Press. pp. 305–307. ISBN 978-0-8154-1020-1. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
  4. ^ Winzenried, Rebecca (2001). "Robert Bonfiglio: Hummin'". The Free-Reed Journal. Reprinted from Symphony, the magazine of the American Symphony Orchestra League (November–December 2001). Retrieved 12 June 2014.
  5. ^ Crist, Nanette (February 13, 2014). "Blowing Emotion". Florida Weekly. Retrieved 12 June 2014.

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