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WVU School of Music to celebrate life of James Benner

James Benner

The West Virginia University School of Music will honor the life of beloved professor emeritus James Benner with a memorial concert on April 5. 

Benner passed away in November 2017 at the age of 92. He taught at WVU from 1967 – 85.

The memorial concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Metropolitan Theatre in downtown Morgantown. Featured performers include WVU alumnus and famed tenor James Valenti and faculty members Hope Koehler, Laura Knoop Very, Robert Chafin, William Koehler and James Kenon Mitchell. Tenor Raymond Very will also perform, as well as the WVU Chamber Singers.  Please plan to join us for a reception following the concert at The Village at Heritage Point.

“The response to James Benner's passing from former students, colleagues and friends has demonstrated the breadth and depth of his contribution to the School of Music and to the cultural landscape of West Virginia University,” said Mitchell. “This is an opportunity to pay tribute, through performance and reflection, to the legacy and impact of a life lived in passionate service of music and education.”

During his time at WVU, Benner developed undergraduate and graduate repertoire classes and performing seminars for singers. He established a two-year sequence of foreign language diction classes for singers and instituted a coaching and accompanying degree program for pianists. Under Benner’s directorship, the WVU Opera Theatre produced 38 productions of 34 different operas, fully staged, with orchestra. In 2003, Benner was given the WVU College of Creative Arts Deans Award for Distinguished Leadership in the Arts.

After his retirement, Professor Benner headed the musical preparation staff for Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Company of Boston. During his season there, he conducted all of the tour performances of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly for Opera New England, the touring branch of the Caldwell operation.

Benner had been engaged for numerous residencies at universities in the United States where he gave master classes, conducted opera performances and directed opera productions. He filled numerous conducting engagements for the Pittsburgh Opera Theater in Pittsburgh during residencies at WVU. For seven summers, Benner was a member of the faculty at the Chautauqua Institute in Chautauqua, New York. Benner taught 15 Elderhostel courses, mostly on opera.

Before joining WVU’s faculty, Benner was a freelance coach and accompanist in New York City. He accompanied many of the leading singers of the day in extensive recital tours of North America. For nearly 15 years, he was pianist on all the major tours of the famed Obernkirchen Childrens Choir from Germany. He played more than 1,000 concerts for them in countries on five continents.

Professor Benner’s former students include many conductors, accompanists and soloists who are active on the professional stages of Europe and the United States. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a master’s degree from Columbia University. He studied piano with Egon Petri and Gaston Dethier.

In memorium of James Benner, donations can be made to the Frances Yeend and James Benner Scholarship at WVU.