BSO’s ‘Project Beethoven’ Hits the Runway

Student designers bring Beethoven into the modern world of fashion

All roads lead to Beethoven,” said Owen C. Young, a cellist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) on February 3. Apparently, fashion is no exception. Last Thursday, 10 student designers showcased evening wear inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven at Boston’s Symphony Hall in “Project Beethoven,” the BSO’s third annual composer-inspired fashion contest.

Models and designers walked amongst patrons before the concert, and, after conductor Sakari Oramo led the orchestra through an impressive performance, Symphony Hall’s Cohen Wing was transformed into a runway. At the end of the night, two designers—a ‘patron favorite’ and a ‘judges favorite’—were recognized for their pieces. While some patrons came exclusively for the music, the designers’ artistry demonstrated that fashion gleans its visions from unsuspected sources and intrigues unsuspecting onlookers.

Project Beethoven called for artistic ambition: student designers from various schools near Boston drew inspiration the iconic classical composer Ludwig van Beethoven to create their modern designs. While many designers remarked on the challenges that the theme presented, Elizabeth A. Bentley, a professor of Apparel Design at the Rhode Island School of Design, says that the theme was consistent with the ideas behind fashion design. “That’s what art is all about; you absorb the culture around you and turn it into something three dimensional. Apparel is basically architecture for the body, sculpture for the body. So this made sense,” says Bentley.

The event also presented many of these aspiring professional designers with their first opportunities to put their schooling into practice. “It was kind of personal because it was one of the first things that I have really drawn, sketched, and made, and it came out really well. I’m really proud of it,” says Ashley R. Boiardi, a student at Framingham State University.

The varying interpretations of Project Beethoven’s theme were similar to the myriad interpretations of Beethoven’s musical works. Designer Candice X. Wu from the School of Fashion Design in Boston took inspiration from instruments and the concert hall itself, creating a black floor-length dress with a piano key pattern around the midriff and gold-backed designs similar to those found in the hall. Others took inspiration from Beethoven’s music and the costume style during the period. Boiardi chose to focus on Beethoven himself. “I started looking at him as a person,” she said. “I focused in on 1792. He was my age, in his 20s. He was composing music, but nobody really knew who he was, like myself. I’m an aspiring designer making garments but they’re not mass-produced or anything.” The result was a striking red dress with a white tuxedo pleat around the neck that won Boiardi the distinction of ‘patron favorite.’


Designer Maria E. Canada from the Rhode Island School of Design was the winner of the ‘judges favorite.’ “Maria did an outstanding job of execution and interpretation and design elements,” said judge Sara J. Campbell. Despite her victory, however, Canada acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn from the fashion world. “Honestly, I would like to go work with somebody that’s really big or do a post-graduate, do my masters,” she said about her future plans. “I really want to learn the craft and the trade, because if I want to do this, I want to do it the best I can possibly do it. So I feel like I’ve got a lot of years of training ahead of me.”

Though the fashion aspect of Project Beethoven offered a fresh perspective on classical symphony performance, many of the BSO’s patrons came solely to hear Beethoven’s music. The night’s program featured world-renowned Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo, who led the orchestra through Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and Prokofiev’s “Symphony No. 6 in E-Flat minor.” Most impressive was the orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor,” which showcased the exceptional talent of pianist Radu Lupu.

Orchestra and pianist alike showed a nuanced mastery of Beethoven’s work, but Lupu’s expressive performance was unparalleled. Rather than attempting to match the orchestra’s grandeur, Lupu focused on a tender and emotional though still powerful rendition of the concerto. When pianist and orchestra played together, they melded without becoming muddled, and when they played separately they provided interesting contrasts on the piece’s overarching themes.

“Beethoven is certainly one of the colossal figures in western music, and can be interpreted many different ways,” said Young. Between the clothing designs inspired by Beethoven, and Oramo’s and Lupu’s rendition of the great composer’s piano concerto, “Project Beethoven” certainly proved just how diverse those interpretations can be.

—Staff writer Keerthi Reddy can be reached at


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