Polish Orchestra to play Beethoven at C.Y. Stephens


Courtesy of Iowa State Center

The Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra will perform select works from Beethoven on March 1 in the CY Stephens Auditorium. The program will include Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” his “Piano Concerto No. 5” with soloist Marcin Koziak and the well-known “Fifth Symphony.”

Maggie Curry

The Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Ernst van Tiel, will perform select works from Beethoven on March 1 in the CY Stephens Auditorium. The program will include Beethoven’s “Egmont Overture,” his “Piano Concerto No. 5” with soloist Marcin Koziak and the well-known “Fifth Symphony.”

Before the concert Dr. Jonathan Sturm, professor of Music History, will speak on Beethoven’s music at an Overture Dinner. Separate tickets for the dinner are required. Tickets are no longer being sold.

A preview open to those with a regular ticket to the orchestra will occur in the ground floor Celebrity Café before the performance, where Dr. Jacob Harrison, Director of Orchestral Activities at ISU, will speak about the pieces being performed.

Tickets for the orchestra are priced by section: $25, $39, $52, $65 and $70; youth and ISU student tickets cost $25. 

Tickets can be purchased from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Iowa State Center Ticket Office, located at the north entrance of Stephens Auditorium; at all Ticketmaster centers; by phone: 1-800-745-3000 or online: www.ticketmaster.com.

Beethoven is a name students may recognize from elementary music education. Beethoven played an important part in music history, but his music can be recognized and appreciated even by those who are unaware they are listening to it. Beethoven’s music also influences modern composers.

“If you listen to the music of “Star Wars” by John Williams or “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, it is easy to hear how John Williams was influenced by a number of classical composers, one of whom was Beethoven,” Sturm said.

For those who enjoy Williams’ music, Beethoven has a similar style.

“We love heroes in America, which is why we love Williams’ music, and Beethoven also wrote music that was powerful and heroic,” Sturm said.

The first piece the orchestra will perform is the “Egmont Overture.” The overture is inspired by a trauerspiel (tragedy in German) written by Goethe. Normally an overture preludes something larger, like an opera. In this case the overture stands alone as a single movement piece.

“A movement in a symphony is like the chapter in a book,” Sturm said. “The Overture to Egmont would be like a short story.”

Beethoven’s music came at an important time in musical history and completely changed the way music was written. The music before Beethoven was composed by men like Mozart. This style of music, often composed for aristocrats, frequently followed a specific pattern.

“They were unique and beautiful pieces, but they followed a traditional form and style,” Sturm said.

In a piano concerto from Mozart’s day, the orchestra would usually introduce all the melodies, and the soloist would begin to play with the orchestra a few minutes later.  At the end of the movement, the soloist would do an elaborate cadenza alone.

Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 5” changed that. Instead of waiting almost to the end of the piece for a cadenza, Beethoven inserted one after the first chord.

“In this concerto, he was really trying to break down the traditional and expected form,” Sturm said. “He was playing with the whole idea of where the cadenza is supposed to happen within the piece.”

For audience members at the time who knew the expected pattern, it would likely have been quite a surprise.

“It would be like saying ‘I’m going to go to a Valentines Day party’ and arriving to find that everybody is dressed up like Halloween,” Sturm said. “That’s a surprise. It’s not what you expect. Beethoven was essentially saying ‘I can put a cadenza wherever I want.’”

Beethoven also tried different forms when composing his symphonies.

“In a Haydn or Mozart symphony every movement was a distinct piece,” Sturm said. “They were all tied together like a family is tied together, but they were all separate people.”

Beethoven connected the third and fourth movements of the 5th Symphony without a pause in between. Beethoven also took the opening short-short-short-long motif and expanded it across four movements, tying them all to the same theme.

“He tied 35 minutes of music to one genetic piece of musical DNA,” Sturm said. “The melodies change, but the rhythmic ratios between the notes remain constant, if one hears them carefully.”

The theme of Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” is well known. Check out this ad from 2012 to refresh your memory.


Beethoven’s fifth symphony is also the first important piece to use trombones, piccolos, and contrabassoons.

“In terms of major pieces of music, no symphony used those instruments before Beethoven’s Fifth,” Sturm said.

One of the things most people know about Beethoven is his deafness. He composed even though he was deaf in the last decade of his life. He was not deaf at the time any of the pieces in this particular concert were composed, but he was already losing his hearing.

“That’s another one of those phenomenal aspects of Beethoven,” Sturm said. “His inner mind and inner ear were so finely tuned that he didn’t actually need to hear something literally in order to know how it sounded.”

Beethoven suffered from depression as a result of his hearing loss, but he continued to compose, Sturm said. In some ways, his deafness adds to his legend. But his music is also strong enough to stand on its own.

“I think he’s such a legend because his music appeals to generation after generation in the same way a Rembrandt painting is still worth looking at,” Sturm said. “Not just because it’s expensive, but because it’s artistically beautiful.”

Prospective audience members should know that just because the entire performance is composed by one person, the pieces will still be very different.

“Even though this concert presents the music of only one composer, you’re going to hear a lot of variety,” Sturm said. “This is a concert with music that changed the whole face of what music was when it was first composed. It was revolutionary.

“From our point in time we can say ‘this guy was way ahead of his time. He invented light bulbs when everybody else had candles.’”

For more information on the performance, visit the Iowa State Center website