The Wichita Symphony Orchestra ends its classics season next weekend with popular works by Ludwig Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner and Aaron Copland. Internationally renowned German pianist Markus Groh will perform a piano concerto written by his nation’s most famous composer, Beethoven.
Beethoven wrote Piano Concerto No. 5 in 1809. Also known as “The Emperor,” this work was the last of Beethoven’s piano concertos.
“It has pomp and a regal quality to it,” said Daniel Hege, the symphony’s music director and conductor. “It makes you lift your head up.”
The three movements in Beethoven’s work take the listener through a maze of emotions. The pianist negotiates back and forth with the orchestra. A musical conversation sometimes pits one against the other.
“It’s a fascinating work,” Hege said. “There’s an actual real conversation between the soloist and the orchestra.”
Groh, who is flying in from Berlin to perform, grew up playing Beethoven’s music.
“This is a wonderful, deep and at the same time brilliant piece,” Groh said by e-mail.
Groh began playing the piano at age 4 in a small city outside Stuttgart. His parents were both doctors, and their love for music was passed down. Groh’s father and uncle would fill the home with classical sounds from the works of Chopin, Beethoven and Schumann as they played the piano and violin each weekend.
Groh’s repertoire is large — from Johannes Brahms to Edvard Grieg to contemporary composers. But his admiration for Beethoven never ceases.
“It is impossible to tell who my absolute favorite is, but Beethoven definitely belongs in my favorite group,” Groh said. “Usually, I feel very much at home with this piece.”
After winning the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Competition in Brussels in 1995, Groh, the first German to win the award, has garnered many awards and toured many famous concert halls worldwide.
“He’s a very inspiring artist,” said Hege, who has worked with Groh on several performances outside Wichita. “He has such a refined touch, and he has a lot of power.”
Because this work by Beethoven requires great finesse, Hege selected Groh.
“It’s like you are aspiring to go a little bit higher on the mountain,” Hege said.
While the second movement is more ethereal, the third is frolicsome. Going from the celestial sphere back to earth, the piece has an uplifting ending.
Copland’s quintessential Americana piece, Symphony No. 3, was written during World War II, Copland’s American Folksong Period. This inspirational symphony includes “Fanfare for the Common Man” in the final movement.
“In my opinion, it’s the greatest American symphony,” Hege said. “It’s the gold standard for an American composer to set their work to. It feels like Aaron Copland has identified with the American spirit.”
Hege likened Copland’s symphony to open fields and prairies. But, he said, the piece offers many challenges for the musician — good ones.
While Copland’s triumphant work ends the concert, Wagner’s “Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III” begins the night.
“This is a great curtain-riser,” Hege said. “It’s fast. It will get the blood moving.”
This three-minute opener will be familiar to the audience. Many will recognize the work from early morning Bugs Bunny cartoons.
“Wagner was one of the pivotal figures in the history of music,” Hege said. “He’s like Beethoven; he turned music on its head.”
The concert, which is wrapped around the theme of the nobility of the human spirit, points listeners to find the nobility within themselves.
“The whole program is a good match,” Hege said. “The concert is going to be exhilarating and dramatic.”