C.Y. Stephens Auditorium – “Iowa Building of the Century”

C. Y. Stephens Auditorium opened in 1969 as part of the Iowa State Center at Iowa State University. A major gift of over $1 million from C. Y. Stephens, a 1925 graduate of Iowa State University, helped build the auditorium. The auditorium’s completion gave Iowa State University in Ames a world-class facility where it could hold performances. Over the years nationally and internationally renowned performers have performed on the university campus. C.Y. Stephens Auditorium has hosted almost every major international orchestra.

Notable Performances

The opening of C.Y. Stephens Auditorium on September 13, 1969 attracted national attention for the university. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra performed for five concerts in the new facility with the Iowa State Oratorio Chorus. Seijo Ozawa, a world famous conductor, directed the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Opening night audiences were as impressed and interested in the building itself as they were with the performance. The state-of-the-art acoustical, or sound, design made listening to the performance particularly enjoyable for the audience.

Other early performances at the auditorium included a lecture by noted historian Arthur Schlesinger,Jr., a performance of the Shakespearian play King Lear, and a production of Madame Butterfly by the Chicago Lyric Opera Company. The new auditorium won instant praise.

Each year a “Season at Stephens” program hosts a broad range of musical and performing groups. Symphonies, ballets, children’s and family programs, acting companies, classical pianists, Broadway musicals, jazz musicians, dancing groups and singers all perform there. One of the most popular programs is the annual performance of The Nutcracker Suite ballet. The classic holiday fairy tale had its first performance at Stephens beginning in 1981. Two hundred local dancers from surrounding central Iowa communities make up the supporting cast.

“Iowa Building of the Century”

The facility, which seats 2700, has consistently won praise for its excellent acoustics. It was specially designed for viewing many different types of performances. In 2005 the Iowa Chapter of The American Institute of Architects set out to identify the most significant Iowa buildings of the 20th century based on their excellence in design and their significant cultural impact. Based on the selections of a “jury” made of two architects and two non-architects, C.Y. Stephens Auditorium was named the Iowa “Building of the Century.” This building used plain concrete in new and creative ways. Its state-of-the-art acoustic design helped to make this building an instant architectural masterpiece.

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