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Simon Estes showcases breadth of his brilliant career

The inaugural year for the Fern Lingenfelter Concert Series closed with a breath-taking and uplifting recital featuring two master musicians, bass-baritone Simon Estes and pianist Mei-Hsuan Huang on Sunday, March 12th in the McPherson Church of the Brethren on the campus of McPherson College. The Fern Lingenfelter Artist Series is generously funded by Mr. Steve Clark in honor of his mother, Fern Lingenfelter, who was a graduate of and longtime piano teacher at McPherson College. The series funds two annual concerts which musically enrich McPherson College and central Kansas by bringing in some of the top musicians in the world.

Sunday’s concert opened with Mr. Estes singing a set of operatic arias that showcased the breadth of his professional career which began in 1965 with the Deutsche Opera in “Aida”. Since then, Estes has sung more than 100 operatic roles and performed with 115 orchestras and in 84 opera houses world-wide. From his opening note, the mature resonance of his rich, bass-baritone voice filled every inch of the performance hall. The musical mastery that has made him famous world-wide for over five decades was on full display as he captivated the large and enthusiastic audience with his ability to emote the music, flawlessly articulate the Italian and German librettos, and capture the drama of the operatic scenes.

Mr. Estes’ second set featured traditional African-American spirituals which provided the audience an experience of his deeply religious character. Once again his mature, engulfing, deep voice shook the rafters of the hall. And although he sang from a seated position, the audience was lifted out of their seats by the closing song of this set, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit”. As a part of his social mission, Estes supports the United Nations Mosquito Netting Project to save children’s lives from malaria in Africa. His performance for the Lingenfelter Artist Series will also support that mission in lieu of an honorarium. When Estes sang, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand” in this set, his personae was on full display as a brilliant musician, deeply religious man and champion for social causes.

Mr. Estes’ final set featured songs from American Musical Theatre and Movies. In this set, the audience was able to gain insight into the personal struggles of Simon Estes, who worked his way through school cleaning windows, sleeping on floors and struggling to buy meals. Considering that just two generations before him slaveholders forced his grandfather into servitude, Estes’ rise to the top of the musical profession is an inspiration to musicians and non-musicians alike. His final song, “Climb Every Mountain”, certainly could have been interpreted as a reflection of his life as well as his challenge to all the members of the audience.

Mr. Estes was accompanied by Mei-Hsuan Huang who is a phenomenal musician in her own right. Ms. Huang is Professor of Piano at Iowa State University and a member of the Amara Piano Quartet. In addition to accompanying Estes, she played three solo selections composed by Frederic Chopin. Her elegant, long fingers danced on the piano and made the technically imposing Chopin pieces sound effortless. And the mastery of her phrasing, choosing what notes to bring out of the thick romantic harmonies and which melodic lines to emphasize, showed great musical maturity which defied her youthful appearance.