It was a huge honour to welcome the great French poet Yves Bonnefoy to Robinson College, Cambridge, last week, to give a reading of his poetry and to hear a concert of music inspired by poetry. Bonnefoy is unquestionably a major figure in poetry worldwide and his reading drew enthusiasts from far and wide. He read with extraordinary straightforwardness and simplicity, and within this there was a striking dignity and solidity to his words.
Last year I wrote a piece closely based on one of Bonnefoy’s poems. At the time I owned a book of his but had no expectation of ever meeting him nor of his ever hearing my piece. But, through a chain of extraordinarily lucky chances, I ended up putting on this concert in which my piece was given its second performance in front of the poet, alongside other music based closely on specific poems, and with the poem in question read immediately before the music. (This was a fun programme to devise – Richard Causton’s Sleep (based on Seferis); Debussy’s Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air (Baudelaire); Machaut/JT: Virelai ‘Dame, vostre doulze viaire’; Cheryl-Frances Hoad’s Bouleumeta (Euripides); Dutilleux’s De l’ombre et de silence (no poem for this one, but it was perfect at this point in the programme) and finally my piece Plus avant que l’étoile, based on Bonnefoy’s poem Deux Couleurs.) These pieces were beautifully played by Sara Minelli and Roderick Chadwick.
M. Bonnefoy was extraordinarily receptive and generous towards the music, and wrote an appreciation of my piece which I shall treasure. I was lucky to spend much of the following weekend with him, which was full of warmth and lively conversation. He has suggested that we take a similar programme of poems and music to perform at Tours next year; it would be wonderful to be revisit and continue what was a truly magical weekend.