Valente invokes poetic spirit

by Jack Vaitayanonta | 10/24/96 5:00am

"I am the blossom pressed in a book,/ found again after two hundred years ... I am the one whose love/ overcomes you, already with you/ when you think to call my name ..."

With these words and those of other writings, the late New Hampshire poet laureate Jane Kenyon has left her mark on the public's mind, and echoes that still reverberate with us long after her death from leukemia in 1995.

Kenyon was born in Ann Arbor, Mich. in 1947 and graduated from the University of Michigan. She is the author of five collections of poetry, and her poems have appeared in many magazines such as The New Yorker, Paris Review, the New Republic, the Atlantic Monthly, and Poetry.

She lived and worked with her husband Donald Hall in Wilmot until her death. Her poems have gained a strong following, and her posthumous collection "Otherwise" has sold 14,000 copies, according to Eileen Pollack of the Concord Monitor.

Kenyon's poetry is amazingly rich, moving and accessible, and conveys the power of one's moving from the depths of life's darkest moments.

Her story will continue tonight as soprano Benita Valente and pianist Cynthia Raim take center stage and explore the magic of Kenyon's poetry through the combined power of voice and piano performance.

In tonight's show and on the rest of their 1996-97 recital programs, they will perform the song cycle "Briefly It Enters," written by William Bolcom for Valente and set to the poetry of Kenyon.

The cycle was first performed at the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Mich. After Valente's and Raim's performances tonight at the College, they will take the act on a nationwide tour.

Bolcom was friends with Hall and Kenyon since the early 1970s, when Hall was an English professor at Michigan.

In 1992, Valente and mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos, who died of cancer the following year, commissioned Bolcom to write a duet for them. After Valente asked Bolcom to continue the project and write a memorial to Troyanos, Bolcom looked for poems to which he could set music.

He chose poetry by Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, and then finally came across for the third and final poem Kenyon's hymn "Let Evening Come." The cantata debuted in New York during Kenyon's final days -- Valente sang the poem and was so distraught she was unable to continue with the rest of the program.

The cantata was such a success that Valente and Bolcom decided to work on a song cycle based entirely on Kenyon's poetry.

Bolcom said one of his hopes was that his music would clarify the text of Kenyon's poems and give people an idea of how the poetry is supposed to sound.

Tonight's performance will likely include, in addition to the Bolcom cycle, works by Schumann, Brahms, Strauss and Wolf.

As an icon among connoisseurs of song literature, Valente has been a frequent guest on the leading recital series in this country. A distinguished American soprano, she has made her mark as a celebrated interpreter of lieder, chamber music and oratorio, and with her performances on the operatic stage.

The Californian has not stopped making her groundbreaking contributions to the artistic world since winning the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Valente's recorded repertoire includes six highly regarded lieder albums, three with Raim for Pantheon -- Wolf and Strauss Lieder; Handel, Mozart and Schubert Lieder; Mozart Schubert and Wolf Lieder.

Raim was unanimously chosen as the first-prize winner of the Clara Haskil International Piano Competition and has been acclaimed for her concerto and recital appearances around the world.

As a native of Detroit, where she first studied with Mischa Kottler, Raim was the youngest soloist ever to perform a complete concerto with the Detroit Symphony.

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