Technically, soprano Esther Heideman is coming to Lexington to perform as a soloist with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra. But she's also visiting an old friend.
"We went to school together," she says, referring to the Philharmonic's new music director, Scott Terrell. "We were at the University of Minnesota at the same time, and we've worked together many times in many locations."
Knowing Terrell since he started work on his master's degree and working with him in Minneapolis; Charleston, S.C.; and now Lexington has allowed Heideman to watch him grow from a promising young conducting student to music director.
"He was already amazing when I knew him in college," Heideman says. "But he was working with younger orchestras and semi- professional groups at the time, so it's just exciting that he has his own orchestra."
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Heideman's career has been going pretty well, too.
In 2000, she won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; a year later she was on the Met's stage, singing Pamina in The Magic Flute.
Since then, she has appeared on many prestigious stages with some of the most noteworthy orchestras in the world, including the New York Philharmonic, the Prague Radio Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony. For many years, she live in the active classical music community of Minnesota's Twin Cities, although her Lexington appearance finds her returning from an extended stay on the other side of the world.
For the past eight months, Heideman has lived in Beijing, performing and working with composers and other musicians.
"It was a great chance to really experience life in Beijing," she says. "It's such a different lifestyle over there."
One thing that impressed her was that people in Beijing live in modest homes and don't have a lot of possessions. But they have parks and make the most of them; families often spend entire weekend days in the park.
It reminded her of the piece she will sing with the Philharmonic: Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915.
"Everybody gets together in the park or gets together on the lawn, and they make the most of it," she says.
Heideman has performed the Barber piece several times and appreciates the dreamy representation of a warm summer day in the South.
"It's a beautiful piece set in a jazz improv style," Heideman says, noting that poet James Agee wrote the words in 90 minutes. "It's amazing to think how quickly it was written and how beautiful it is."
Heideman says she and Terrell both love Knoxville. For her, it is also an opportunity to reunite with a conductor who she says works particularly well with singers.
"He has a really good sense for what singers can handle," Heideman says, "and he likes to push the boundaries and make it a really exciting program."
And she is excited to be part of Friday night's concert.
"They contacted me right after he accepted the job, to see if I was available," Heideman says. "And I was so thrilled that Scott was going to be the new conductor that, of course, I would do anything I could to be part of his first season."