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(Offsite at KAWAI France) John Ashbery’s Poetic World in Music: A Talk and Live Performance

Wed March 6 @ 19 h 30 - 20 h 30


Join Karin Roffman and Sharon Roffman for an evening of poetry, biography, and musical performance celebrating the life of American poet John Ashbery.

This event is in-person at KAWAI France (11 Pl. de la Bataille de Stalingrad, 75010 Paris).

In this combination talk and performance, Karin Roffman (John Ashbery’s biographer) and Sharon Roffman (violin) will weave poetry, biography, and musical excerpts together to offer a tour of the life and soundscape of iconic American poet John Ashbery (1927-2017).

Well known in Paris, where he lived between 1955 and 1965, and where he worked an art critic for the International Herald Tribune while publishing his first books of poetry, Ashbery’s connection to the world of art and poetry have been long discussed. It may come as something of a surprise that he thought about his writing as having a closer relationship to music than art. 

As Ashbery put it: “I have always felt that my ideas came out of music…I listen to music all the time and especially when I am writing. I always have a record on or listen to the classical radio station…It is a trigger, but I would be at a loss to say how.”

Over the course of his long life, he amassed a huge and eclectic collection of records, cassettes, and CDs; many poems referenced pieces and composers; hundreds of pages of unpublished letters to friends detailed enthusiastic musical discoveries and illuminated his listening habits. Composers, including Elliot Carter, Ned Rorem and Alvin Lucier, enjoyed setting his poems to music. In Spring 2021, Karin Roffman published the first study of Ashbery as poet, musician, and record collector: “A Playlist” in Evergreen Review, an essay on the relationship between his poetry and his listening, highlighting ten works from his music library: https://evergreenreview.com/read/from-john-ashberys-music-library-a-playlist/

About the speakers: 

Karin Roffman, author of The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017) which was named one of the 100 notable books for 2017 by the New York Times, is currently completing a full biography. In 2019, in collaboration with the Yale University Digital Humanities Lab, she released John Ashbery’s Nest, a virtual tour and website on John Ashbery’s Hudson house. Her recent essay, “John Ashbery’s Music Library: A Playlist”; appeared in Evergreen Review (March 2021). Her essays on 20 th and 21 st century writers and painters have appeared in Raritan, Modern Fiction Studies, Artforum, Rain Taxi, Yale Review, Chicago Review, Wallace Stevens Journal and others. Her first book, From the Modernist Annex, won the Elizabeth Agee American Literature prize. She is currently senior lecturer of Humanities and Associate Director of Public Humanities at Yale University.

American violinist Sharon Roffman, made her solo concerto debut at age sixteen with the New Jersey Symphony and is now equally sought after as a soloist, chamber musician, orchestral leader and music educator around the world. Ms. Roffman was concertmaster of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from 2017-2023 and has performed as a guest concertmaster with the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the London Symphony Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Estonian Festival Orchestra, principal 2nd of Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, and has been a frequent guest member of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, among others. Passionate about combining performance and education, Ms. Roffman is the founder and artistic director of ClassNotes, a chamber music ensemble and non-profit organization dedicated to introducing public school students to classical music through interdisciplinary school residencies, and regularly creates online curricula for students and audiences alike to learn about music.

French-American pianist David Lively has a passionate attachment to the artistic legacies of France and the United States that makes him a performer of choice for the music of both countries. In 1969, at the age of 16, he left his native United States for France to study at the École normale de musique with Jules Gentil (formerly Alfred Cortot’s assistant). He went on to study with Wilhelm Kempff, Eugene Istomin, Nadia Boulanger, Erich Leinsdorf and, above all, Claudio Arrau. With his dazzling technique and musical intensity, he quickly won a number of international prizes, including the Concours International Marguerite Long, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, the Geneva International Music Competition, the International Tchaikovsky Competition, where he was also awarded the Special Prize for contemporary music, and the Dino Ciani Prize of La Scala of Milan, winning a growing public following on each occasion. As artistic director of the Saint-Lizier Festival in Ariège in southwestern France, Mr. Lively made the event a forum for young talent and seasoned musicians. Much in demand as a teacher, he has given numerous master classes at the Shanghai Piano Festival, at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, at the Athens Conservatory, at the Enescu Lyceum in Bucharest, at the Ecole normale de musique’s own Académie de musique française in Paris, at the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, and for the Yuri Bashmet Academy throughout Russia. He is a founding member of ADAP International Association of Artists for Peace, alongside Hüseyin Sermet, Cyprien Katsaris, Ramzi Yassa and Nima Sarkechik.

Franco- German violist Béatrice Muthelet joined in 2001, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra as Principal Violist and also became a founding member of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, at Claudio Abbado’s personal invitation. Since then, she has often been invited all over the world as guest leader in orchestras such as the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, the Munich Philharmonic, the Bamberg symphony, the Swedish Radio, and the orchestra of La Scala in Milan, to name but a few. Béatrice Muthelet grew up in Versailles, before moving to Israel at the age of fifteen and joining the prestigious Telma Yelin High School of Arts. She was awarded a bursary by the American Israel Foundation and trained as a violinist in the class of Chaim Taub, also benefitting from masterclasses given by Isaac Stern and Shlomo Mintz. Aged nineteen, she undertook to further her studies in the USA and became Pinkas Zukerman’s first viola student, in the Manhattan school of Music, on a full scholarship.


In March, the Library is delighted to be hosting Reverberations: Literature Out Loud, a festival spotlighting innovations in the arts. In a series of concerts, conversations, and workshops, artists and authors are coming together to celebrate the history of storytelling and sound. Learn more about the festival and discover other events.

Reverberations is organized in partnership with the Opéra Comique and with the generous support of Festival Napa Valley, the American Center for Arts and Culture, and the Florence Gould Foundation. 

Important information: This event is in-person at KAWAI France (11 Pl. de la Bataille de Stalingrad, 75010 Paris).

Attendance at this event constitutes permission for your photograph or video to be taken at the event and used by the American Library in Paris for marketing, promotional, pedagogical, or other purposes.

Evenings with an Author are free and open to the public (with a 10€ suggested donation)
thanks to the generous support of Gregory Annenberg Weingarten of GRoW @ Annenberg.


Wed March 6
19 h 30 min - 20 h 30 min
Event Categories:


11 Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad
Paris, 75010 France
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(Offsite at KAWAI France) John Ashbery’s Poetic World in Music: A Talk and Live Performance
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