116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Beethoven isn’t ready to roll over, but Orchestra Iowa is ready to roll over Beethoven.
In a pair of concerts titled “Beethoven 5X5,” Maestro Timothy Hankewich is ready to lead the orchestra and guest pianist Stewart Goodyear in the German composer’s final completed piano concerto, No. 5, commonly known as his Emperor Concerto, followed by his best-known work, Symphony No. 5.
The orchestra, which launched its 2021-22 season outdoors with Brucemorchestra on Sept. 18, is returning to indoor venues with these Beethoven works, slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at the Paramount Theatre Cedar Rapids and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts. Masks are mandatory for audience members.
What: Orchestra Iowa presents Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, featuring guest artist Stewart Goodyear, followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5
Cedar Rapids: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE; Insights discussion 6:45 p.m., Paramount’s Encore Lounge
Coralville: 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St.; Insights discussion 1:30 p.m., West Music, 1212 Fifth St.
Tickets: $18 to $56, artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/beethoven-5x5/ Free tickets for ages 18 and under with a paid adult, and $10 college student tickets are available only through the Arts Iowa ticket office, 119 Third Ave. SE, or (319) 366-8203
Pandemic protocol: Masks required
Guest artist’s website: stewartgoodyearpiano.com/
Both pieces are just over 40 minutes long, and are akin to running a musical marathon in scope and difficulty — especially for the piano concerto’s soloist.
Concerto No. 5
“Of all the Beethoven piano concertos, the Emperor is by far the longest and most physically demanding, but I think it’s arguably the most famous, as well,” Hankewich said.
Beethoven, who lived from 1770 to 1827, studied organ and violin, but piano was his primary instrument.
“He really set the standard for modern pianism, because the design of the piano went through so many iterations from the time of Haydn (1732-1809) to the time of Beethoven, because Beethoven kept on breaking his instruments, so manufacturers had to keep on redesigning instruments,” Hankewich said.
“By the end of Beethoven’s career, the piano would be recognizable today as a functioning instrument. So Beethoven just skyrocketed the technical demands and coloristic possibilities of the instrument.”
Hankewich, also an accomplished pianist, wore out his recording of the Emperor Concerto in his youth. (Online searches revealed no definitive reason why it was dubbed “Emperor,” other than the fact that it’s imposing and triumphant.)
“To this day, it’s my favorite concerto,” Hankewich said. “What’s there not to like, in terms of its impressive bravura performance, but the musical ideas are just catchy and beautiful. And the slow movement — the middle movement — is so sublime, it’s enough to make you cry.”
Audiences will hear woodwinds, strings, horns and timpani, but none of the lower, louder brass instruments that might overpower the piano, Hankewich noted.
“In my view, the Beethoven piano concertos and sonatas represent a burgeoning culture toward virtuoso pianism that features the soloist more prominently over the orchestra, rather than its equal,” he said.
Hankewich found a pianist up to the task in Goodyear, hailed by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “one of the best pianists of his generation.” His repertoire includes all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas and concertos, and Hankewich said the Toronto native is the “go-to” pianist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
“His claim to fame is that he is often cited for performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in one sitting. So Beethoven is sort of his home base, and this goes hand in glove with another project that began (Sept. 28),” Hankewich said.
“In partnership with the University of Iowa, we are presenting performances of all 32 piano sonatas in the next couple of months, and Stewart Goodyear will be back to perform the ‘Hammerklavier’ (No. 29, composed in 1818), which is to this day, one of the most difficult pieces to play,” Hankewich said. “It’s extremely musically difficult to master, as well as technically.”
Symphony No. 5
Beethoven was the first composer to use trombone, contrabassoon and piccolo, “to expand the dynamic capability of the orchestra — bearing in mind that Beethoven was also going deaf at the time,” Hankewich said. “He was exploding it coloristically, but mostly for the purposes of extended dynamics.
“By the time the Fifth Symphony came around, the symphony orchestra as we know it today hadn’t been entirely fully formed.”
This particular piece also marks the first time all movements were unified by an idea — the instantly recognizable first four notes.
Most people know that opening phrase. But what don’t we know about this work?
“That there’s more to it than the opening two measures,” Hankewich said. “Of course, everybody knows the opening ba na na na. But the miracle of the work is that he uses that very simple rhythmic germ and spins a 40-minute symphony out of it, with endless variation and invention.
“That famous statement appears in the accompaniment, it appears in the rhythm, it appears in the counterpoint, it appears in the orchestration, it appears everywhere.”
It’s done in a way “that audiences aren’t even aware of it when it’s happening,” he noted.
Whereas the Piano Concerto No. 5 is a workout for the soloist, Hankewich called the Fifth Symphony “a conductor killer.”
“It’s on every audition for conductors who are aspiring to enter the profession. Of the many things we have to do, the most challenging thing for a conductor is to start and stop the orchestra without a disaster and to lead them through transitions, and this piece has a ton of them,” he said.
“Like everything in this world … the danger is because there’s so many ways of solving the problem, you have to be very clear of which solution you’re going to choose, because if you change your mind in mid execution, bad things happen.”
And if something were to happen, he’s well aware that the musicians “tend to get blamed, because they actually make the sound,” he said, “but the source would be the conductor.”
This concert was slated for 2020, which was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, but that season was paused by COVID-19. Now Beethoven is back on track — but Hankewich said he’s looking forward to an even more significant pairing in April. That’s when Orchestra Iowa will present another pandemic-delayed program: Joel Thompson’s “Seven Last Words of the Unarmed,” followed by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, ending with the familiar “Ode to Joy” choral movement.
The Thompson composition “is such a brilliant and a moving work,” Hankewich said, “and despite the fact that the two pieces are separated by around 250 years, they essentially address the same topic, which is freedom, democracy and equal justice under the law.
“Of the entire season, that is the piece,” he said. “That’s the piece.”
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