Baritones Jared Oxborough, as Tennessee Williams, left, and Dierter Bierbrauer, as Rainer Maria Rilke, perform in “Autumn Song.” The Provincetown, Mass. Players and musicians will bring this production to Poindexter Hall on the Mississippi University for Women campus Sept. 5 as part of the 12th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute in Columbus. Photo by: Courtesy photo
August 17, 2013 4:08:12 PM
What would a meeting sound like between American playwright and poet Tennessee Williams and German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, if the two iconic writers had ever met?
A Tennessee Williams Tribute audience in Columbus will be treated to a lyrical answer Thursday, Sept. 5 in "Autumn Song," at Mississippi University for Women's Poindexter Hall. This song cycle blends jazz, art songs and gospel in poetry set to music by composer/pianist George Maurer of Minneapolis, Minn., and compiled and directed by Jef Hall-Flavin, executive director of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival in Massachusetts.
The Tribute Moon Lake Party event at 7:30 p.m. in the historic recital hall is one of many highlights of the 12th annual Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Victorian Homes Sept. 3-8 in Columbus, birthplace of the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
Tribute founder and chair Brenda Caradine saw "Autumn Song" at the Provincetown festival last year and immediately envisioned it set in Poindexter's acoustically-rich surrounds.
Caradine recounted, "After the performance, I asked the composer-conductor, 'How would you like to perform this lovely work in a proper recital hall?' He answered, 'And where would that be?' I told him, 'In the Poindexter recital hall on the campus of Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi, where Tennessee Williams was born.'"
Before the sun had set, the persuasive Caradine was well on her way to securing the production for Columbus' Tribute.
"Autumn Song" uses bold new music to create a unique interplay between Rilke (1875-1926) and Williams (1911-1983) using their own enduring words. Although they never met, Rilke's work influenced Williams, even finding its way into some of his one-act plays and verse.
The renowned writers are sung and acted by Provincetown, Mass. Players Jared Oxborough, as Williams, and Dieter Bierbrauer, as Rilke. Laura Beth Berry and David Trotter, both of Columbus, make an appearance, as well.
"I've worked with Jef Hall-Flavin before, when he did a drama workshop here," Berry commented. "He's such a knowledgeable director and I'm looking forward to working with him again."
This musical interpretation transports audiences to 1940, with a young Tennessee Williams struggling with writer's block and suffering the pain of unrequited love. He turns to Rilke for insight, and through Rilke's poems, Williams gains understanding of his own situation.
By the final song, Rilke helps Williams find inspiration, conquer his fears and begin his journey to become an established playwright.
Composer Maurer is best known as one of Minnesota's premier jazz pianists and his work as performer, arranger and composer has taken him all over the world. He has shared the stage with Eric Clapton, arranged music for the Chiffons, and written two original scores for the Saint Paul City Ballet, among many other accomplishments. Rilke has been an inspiration for Maurer for more than a decade.
Musicians include Rick Manek on saxophone, Diane Tremaine on cello, Pete Hennig on percussion and Jeff Engholm on bass and vocals.
"It's very rare that new music can be so accessible and so emotional," said Hall-Flavin Thursday via phone. "I think the poetry of Rilke and Williams really comes through. (Maurer) is an innovative composer with a big heart, so I think those who love music will love this piece, and those who love poetry will find it inspirational."
How to go
Tickets are $25 at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St., or call 662-328-2787. MUW students and faculty with proper ID may attend free, but a ticket is required, available at the Arts Center.
The six-day Tribute also offers a four-night run of Williams' "Period of Adjustment," scholars' talks, the "Stella" Shouting Contest, a Table Talk program, 5K Streetcar Run, tour of Victorian homes, a sermon inspired by "Period of Adjustment," and more. View the schedule at muw.edu/tennesseewilliams, or pick up a brochure at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center at 300 Main St., or call 662-328-0222 or 800-327-2686.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.