Phoenix is a musical hotbed for a lot of things: There’s an amazing indie scene here, folk is stronger than ever, and the heat has bred some insanely talented metal bands. But choral music is not high on the average concertgoer's list. However, Monday marked the third time that Phoenix Chorale conductor Charles Bruffy has taken the Grammy stage and accepted an award.
Bruffy has been nominated 12 times over the course of his career for awards ranging from “Best Small Ensemble Performance” to “Best Choral Performance,” having nabbed two of his three awards in the past four years alone. As artistic director of both the Kansas City Chorale and the Phoenix Chorale, Bruffy led the groups through live performances in each city for Rachmaninoff: All-night Vigil, which debuted at number one on the Billboard Traditional Classical chart and spent five weeks on the Billboard charts overall. A nod to the composer and the 100th anniversary of the Moscow Synodal Choir’s performance of the same suite in 1915, Bruffy’s tribute received five stars from the Guardian, rendering it quite the rockstar status in the classical world.
With a long history of intertwining both of his choral groups, including a 2009 Lincoln Center performance in New York City, it would seem that Bruffy’s direction of the two groups logically led to this Grammy-winning record. Splitting his time between Kansas City and Phoenix, Rachmaninoff: All-night Vigil was recorded in a Kansas City cathedral in 2014, when Bruffy led 56 singers from two different groups through the piece.
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Of the five 2016 nominees for Best Choral Performance, three were from the Southwest and two of those were Arizonan, featuring Bruffy, from Phoenix, and Eric Holtan of True Concord Voices from Tucson. Bruffy did acknowledge both Holtan and Craig Hella Johnson of Austin’s Conspirare in his acceptance speech. Even more rare was Bruffy’s actual appearance for the acceptance, as previous win had been accepted on his behalf.
As one would assume, the winner of Best Choral Performance isn’t a telecast event, nor is it a tweet-worthy phenomenon for most, but Bruffy did attend this year’s ceremony, along with 40 or so singers from his two choirs — a rare event in itself to have that many choral members at the Grammy ceremony. Both Bruffy and Holtan walked the red carpet into the event however, and attended the same afterparties as other Grammy nominees.
"I would especially like to thank the Phoenix community, including the many donors, patrons and volunteers for their support, without which today would simply not have happened,” says Jen Rogers, Phoenix Chorale's interim president and CEO.
Bruffy’s leadership isn’t to be understated either. Though in reference to his appearance at the awards ceremony, Bruffy’s humorous comment of “We’re here,” uttered from the podium, also feels like a statement that solidifies Phoenix in the pantheon of modern classical focal points.