The first performance of the Fern Lingenfelter Artist Series at McPherson College began not with the sound of piano music, but with the clink of more and more chairs being set out for the audience.
It was music to the ears of McPherson College – as it meant a full house and standing-room only on Sunday – but that was nothing compared to the music that was to come.
Dr. Stephen Beus, professional pianist and professor of piano at Brigham Young University, was the first guest performer for the series, which honors the memory of Fern Lingenfelter – an MC graduate and piano instructor.
He began the performance with a simple bow, then let his playing speak for itself as he launched into a classic work by Felix Mendelssohn – the “Sonata in E Major, Op. 6.”
An expressive and dynamic performer, Dr. Beus would smile faintly and raise his eyebrows as his arms bounced during more whimsical sections, then lean in and “attack” the keys during louder, more intense stretches. Throughout the four selections during the recital, he was a master performer who displayed both technical perfection and a clear enjoyment of his work.
His achievements include first prize in the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, first prize in the Vendome Prize International Competition (Lisbon), and receiving the Max I. Allen Fellowship of the American Pianists Association – all of which he accomplished in one four-month period. His concerts have received high praise from critics, including the “Salt Lake Tribune,” which applauded his performance, saying, “Mesmerizing… explosive… intelligent… he belongs on the world stage.”
He first sat down to a piano at age 2, began lessons at age 5, and made his concert debut at age 9. Since then, he has earned degrees from Whitman College, The Julliard School, and Stony Brook University and has recorded on Endeavor Classics, Harmonia Mundi, and Centaur Records.
After the first selection, Dr. Beus introduced a work of “pop” classical piano by Franz Liszt – Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, which includes rollicking sections that are so much a part of popular culture that even those with little exposure to classical music would spot them.
“Franz Liszt is one of my favorite composers,” Dr. Beus said. “He was treated as something of a rock star. There are a number of stories about Franz Liszt, but this is a family evening so I won’t share all of them.”
One of the family friendly tales was that women would mob a table where he had dined to drip the last few dregs from his wine glass into a tiny vial – which they would wear around their neck as a treasure.
Beus played an arrangement of the piece by Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz, who decided that “there weren’t enough notes, so he added some of his own.”
After intermission was a minimalist, modern piece – “Für Alina” by Arvo Pärt. Written for a young woman departing for college, it’s a quiet meditation.
“It’s very short and there’s never more than two notes played at a time and never the same note,” Beus said. “It represents two people’s lives going on simultaneously that never meet. Think of two people living in an apartment who have never met, but live only a few feet from each other. There are these people who live their lives all around us and for some reason we never meet a few of them.”
The performance concluded with “Sonata in E-flat Minor, Op. 26” by Samuel Barber – a darker and more brooding piece than the others on the program. Barber served in World War II, and the piece was likely inspired by that time.
“Many people believe the anger and violence in this piece reflects his experience in the war,” Dr. Beus said.
Following a standing ovation, he treated the audience to one last selection – a quiet, sublime piece by Kabalevsky called “A Short Story.” Dr. Beus said he first learned the piece at the age of nine.
Coming to McPherson College was wonderful, he said.
“People are so friendly,” he said. “And it was a great turnout.”
The Fern Lingenfelter Artist Series was established this year thanks to a generous commitment to McPherson College, in honor of MC alumna and piano teacher Fern Lingenfelter. Her son, Steve Clark – chairman of Clark Investment Group in Wichita, Kan. – generously established the supporting fund at MC. This cultural series consists of two annual music performance events, with a special emphasis on piano.
Lingenfelter taught piano in McPherson for years – both to traditional college students on the MC campus and younger students at a studio downtown. She developed her skills studying with Jessie Brown at McPherson College – where she earned a certificate in piano in 1924 – and with Swedish pianist Oscar Thorsén at Bethany College. Lingenfelter earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1925 and later a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938 from McPherson College.
Lingenfelter passed away in 1962, but her son, Steve Clark, said he has seen a long and lasting influence from her lifetime of work. Establishing the fund is his way to say, “Thank you,” and to support the music and the instrument she loved.
In addition to the concert on Sunday, Dr. Beus also held two masterclasses on Monday – one for high school students and the other for college students. Dr. Jan and Blaine Hageman attended on Sunday, and their son, Hadley, got to perform in the masterclass on Monday.
After the crescendo of the last piece of the program, Jan had only a few words to convey her feelings.
“Speechless,” she said. “It makes me want to take lessons again.”
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McPherson College, located in central Kansas, is a four-year private liberal arts college offering more than 20 bachelor’s and pre-professional programs. Throughout the curriculum, students are encouraged to explore their ideas, to learn through doing and to make a difference in the world. McPherson College, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, is committed to the ideals of scholarship, participation, and service – developing whole persons, prepared for fulfilling life vocations.
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