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September 12, 2006 > Celebrate the art of song

Celebrate the art of song

by Janet Grant

German poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke once said, "Truly to sing, that is a different breath." No matter how different that breath may be, Music at the Mission is fortunate to have for their premier concert, a breath and voice that is both gifted and inspired. With the launch of their 2006-2007 concert season on Saturday, September 16, Music at the Mission features award-winning soloist and contralto Sherri Phelps. Phelps will be joined by 20th century French and American music specialist, pianist, and musicologist Tedrin Blair Lindsay, and Symphony of Silicon Valley violist Eleanor Angel in A Celebration of the Art of Song.

The opening of the third season of the innovative chamber series promises more of Music at the Missions' signature leading-edge programming. A Celebration of the Art of Song is no exception providing an exciting night of Brahms Zigeunerlieder, Two Songs for Alto, Piano and Viola, op. 91, and a touching and representative collection from the heart of the John Jacob Niles song literature that poignantly frames the Appalachian culture.

Phelps explains that the choice of Brahms and Niles were chosen by design. "Brahms and Niles make wonderful companion composers because of their great love of folk music and poetry. They both found a way to frame folk melody or folk melody style so that a broader and more varied audience could appreciate it."

Johannes Brahms music often revealed a Gypsy influence, and he wound up adapting Hungarian folk music at different times in his career. One of his major efforts was the Zigeunerlieder, or Gypsy Songs, which he composed in 1887. Brahms also wrote Two Songs for Alto with Viola and Piano, Op. 91 - Gestillte Sehnsucht (Satisfied Longing) and Geistliches Wiegenlied (Spiritual Lullaby) as a present for the famous violinist Joseph Joachim and his wife, Amalie. His dear friends had recently split up and he hoped the romantic nature of the pieces could help reconcile their marriage.

The American composer and singer John Jacob Niles, often called the Dean of American Balladeers, is notable for the many traditional ballads he collected in the Appalachian region of the United States. He is well known for such songs as Go Away From My Window, Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair, and the haunting Christmas song, I Wonder as I Wander. Niles made several recordings and many of his songs were later performed by other folk singers, including Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Peter, Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan.

Phelps has had a kind of "love affair" with Niles and his music since she was 19. As a native of Kentucky she feels a natural affinity for her fellow Kentuckian and appreciates the beauty of the music of Kentucky that Niles has saved forever. "He collected those songs from the mountains. He had the musicianship of a great musician, so he collected the melody of a song but he wrote the accompaniments. And they are beautiful. And the choice of comparing him with Brahms is really adept because Brahms was wonderful at setting a song. Niles was able to frame those Appalachian songs so that they could be recognized and accepted more culturally. He gave the music a national voice."

Phelps met her accompanist Tedrin Blair Lindsay at the University of Kentucky through their mutual affinity for Niles. Lindsay knew Niles's wife Rena, and often played concerts for her. Phelps and Lindsay began their Niles project in 2003 doing research at the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky. Phelps has found it wonderful to work in the Niles Gallery at the Center which houses all of Niles's papers. They hope their collaboration will culminate in several recordings. Their concert at the old Mission on September 16 will be their debut recital of Nile's music, which they believe may lead to many more performances, as they have attracted much interest in their project.

Phelps is an active soloist throughout the Southeast including operatic, oratorio, and concert repertoire. Her many credits include appearances in such productions as Puccini's Il trittico, Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, Kirke Mecham's Tartuffe, and Sondheim's A Little Night Music.

A graduate of the Juilliard School, Phelps has sung under the renowned Jonathan Wilcox, and William Noll as well as many other conductors over the course of her career, and has recorded a role in Aaron Copeland's Tenderland with Kirk Trevor. Her other recent appearances include the Aspen Opera Center singing the role of Myrtle in Still Life, Music at the Mission Concert Series narrating Stravinsky's L'histoire du Soldat with Roscoe Lee Brown, a benefit concert with the Fremont Symphony Guild, and a 9/11 memorial concert of Mozart's Requiem and Craig Bohmler's Songs of Loss with the Mission Chamber Orchestra presented by the Music@Market concert series. She is also an active teacher having been on faculty at Western Kentucky University, Murray State University, University of Kentucky, and currently maintains a private studio.

Of Music at the Mission, Phelps says that she is thrilled to back in Fremont performing for the series again. "The first experience with Roscoe Lee Browne last season was so great. I am honored and pleased to be back in the area."

An informative, half-hour concert talk by musicologist, Tedrin Blair Lindsay will precede the September 16 concert at 7:15 p.m. with the concert beginning at 8:00 p.m. A complimentary dessert and champagne reception will immediately follow the concert where you will be able to meet the artists.

For more information, call (510) 656-2364 or visit

A Celebration of the Art of Song
Saturday, September 16
7:15 p.m.
Music at the Mission
Old Mission San Jose
43300 Mission Blvd., Fremont
General Admission, $25, Students and seniors, $20

Tickets by mail (checks only):
Music at the Mission San Jose
P. O. Box 3276
Fremont, CA 94539
E-mail (checks only):
Online (credit card):

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