You could feel the legacy of James Benner in the Metropolitan Theatre on April 5.
That night, the West Virginia University School of Music put together a memorial concert for Benner, who died in November 2017 at the age of 92.
Benner taught at WVU from 1967 – 85 and was extremely influential. 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.
Featured performers for the memorial concert included 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 and the WVU Chamber Singers also performed.
“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 was 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.”
Benner’s life work will continue to be remembered through the Frances Yeend and James Benner Scholarship. The fund provides annual scholarships for junior, senior or graduate soprano students with career potential as a performer in opera and junior, senior or graduate piano students with career potential as a coach or accompanist.
To contribute to the Frances Yeend and James Benner Scholarship, visit give.wvu.edu/music.