Encore April 2014

Page 34

arts encore

Old Wicked Songs

Piano music is focal point of two-man play by

Kit almy


he Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival is known for the variety of musical genres represented by its concerts and master classes, but local theaters also get in on the act, presenting plays in which piano music is a focal point. In 2012, as part of the festival, the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre presented Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations (inspired by Beethoven’s work of the same name). This year Farmers Alley Theatre is staging Old Wicked Songs, a 1996 Pulitzer Prize-nominated play that features Robert Schumann’s song cycle Dichterliebe. In collaboration with the Gilmore, Old Wicked Songs runs from April 25 through May 11. The two-man play by Jon Marans tells the story of a 25-yearold American pianist once considered a prodigy who is burned out and has come to Vienna to study with a renowned piano teacher, Professor Schiller, hoping to recapture his passion for music. On arrival, the student, Stephen Hoffman, is disappointed to learn that before the famous pianist will work with him, he must first take singing lessons from the aging Professor Mashkan, in whose studio the play is set. 34 | Encore APRIL 2014

Nicholas Mueller rehearses his lines from Old Wicked Songs with the musical’s director, D. Terry Williams.

The two “lock horns immediately,” says director D. Terry Williams. “And of course that’s essential in drama, that you have this conflict, but there’s also a tremendous amount of humor in the play.” Schumann’s Dichterliebe, on which Marans’ play is built, is in turn based on another work — poetry, in this case. The song cycle sets Heinrich Heine’s Lyrisches Intermezzo to music. Each scene ends with a section of Dichterliebe, which means “a poet’s love.” According to Williams, the music is “almost a third character in the play. … Schumann’s Dichterliebe drives the action. It’s the mechanism for the bonding between the professor and the student. “The professor chooses this song primarily because it expresses the love of a young man and the love journey he goes on from joy to sadness to melancholy to fear, which the professor believes Stephen needs to experience.” The play is set in 1986 against the political backdrop of former Nazi Kurt Waldheim’s election to the Austrian presidency. Anti-Semitism

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