Last modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2002
IU to host Sylvia Plath 70th year commemoration concert
Recital to feature prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran
As a poet, the late Sylvia Plath had an enormous, lasting impact that spawned countless biographies, novels, plays, paintings, short stories, poems and research papers.
Now comes a new perspective on the life and works of one of the 20th century's most intriguing, complex and influential literary artists -- one set to music.
The Indiana University School of Music, along with the Department of English, the School of Fine Arts, and the Office of the Chancellor, will present the Sylvia Plath 70th Year Commemoration concert on Oct. 27 (Plath's 70th birthday) at 2 p.m. in Auer Hall. Admission is free. Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Shulamit Ran will headline a guest/student recital of music based on Plath's Ariel poems. Ariel, published after Plath's suicide in 1963 at the age of 31, has become one of the best-selling and most widely discussed volumes of poetry published in the United States and Europe in the 20th century.
"Plath was unquestionably known for her visual palette," said Kathleen Connors, an IU graduate student and Plath scholar who arranged the performance and several other major events on the IUB campus celebrating Plath's birth and life. "To a lesser extent, she was known for her crafty word play, her use of rhyme and rhythm, and for being very well informed when it came to music. She spoke in musical terms and understood the importance of sound and rhythm in poetry."
Connors said the wide scope of the Plath events, which include a visual art and manuscript exhibition in the School of Fine Arts Gallery and a literary symposium featuring scholars and educators from around the world, interested the critically acclaimed Ran, who has an affinity for Plath's poetry. Ran, a professor of music at the University of Chicago, won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for Music and the 1992 Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for Symphony, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. During much of the 1990s, she served as composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Ran was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, and has garnered numerous awards, fellowships and commissions. She has attracted a talent-laden collection of singers and musicians from inside and outside the university to perform her 1979 composition Apprehensions. The list of performers includes, among others, sopranos Ellen Ritchey of Georgia and Joan Metelli, associate professor and chair of vocal performance at IU South Bend. Metelli has received wide acclaim for exquisite vocal artistry in recitals, oratorio appearances and operatic roles performed around the globe.
Ran will be introduced by Carmen Tellez, IU associate professor of music, director of the Latin American Music Center, and conductor of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble. While some music scholars question how well music and poetry can work together, Ran's work leaves no doubt that the two can be masterfully intertwined, Tellez said.
"Ran is one of the most distinguished composers in the United States," Tellez said. "She's extremely expressive in a very natural, unglamorous way. Remarkably, she's found a way to express, through her music, the emotional progression that takes place in these poems from a balanced state of mind to a gradual state of derangement."
For Connors, what began 10 years ago as an exploration into Plath's juvenile works has blossomed into a breakthrough musical event that promises to add to the resurgence of interest in this important American poet, not only among literary critics and feminist scholars, but also among those who are only mildly familiar with her work.
"I'm just beside myself," Connors said. "Even though I consider myself a visual and word scholar, I have to admit that I find this to be the most thrilling of all the events we have scheduled."
To learn more about the Sylvia Plath 70th Year Commemoration concert, the visual art and manuscript exhibition currently on display at the School of Fine Arts Gallery, or the upcoming literary symposium, visit the Eye Rhymes Web site at http://www.indiana.edu/~plath70.