Between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the shores of Rend Lake, the Southern Illinois Music Festival brings world-class orchestras and internationally recognized soloists to civic centers, libraries and other venues throughout the area for its eighth year in a row.
Tonight’s concert at the Marion Civic Center, a benefit for victims of the Feb. 29 Harrisburg tornado, along with a jazz exhibition put on this morning for the Carbondale Boys and Girls Club, are the continuation of a monthlong event that will see nearly 30 venues across southern Illinois.
This year’s concert series began June 1 with a festival preview at the Cairo Public Library. The festival’s last act of the year at Carterville High School is one of only eight ticketed performances scheduled. The June 24 opera at CHS will signify the end of the mostly free monthlong event that brings musicians and dancers from around the world to small towns throughout the area.
The festival’s founder and artistic director, Edward Benyas, is the music director of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra and a professor of oboe and conducting at SIU. Benyas said the university-sponsored event gives students and residents the opportunity to experience a level of musicianship and performance often available only at larger venues for higher ticket prices.
Benyas said nearly 50 current SIU students participate in the festival through a variety of ways.
“Two students serve as my assistant conductors,” he said. “Students also work in the administrative staff, sing in the opera, the chorus and dance in the ballet.”
Benyas said students not only gain important experience in those areas, but the work also provides them with a summer salary.
For Abby Simoneau, a graduate student in music, the festival has provided her with a chance to play with a world-class orchestra relatively early in her professional career.
“With such a high caliber of playing, we are able to put these pieces together in only a handful of rehearsals,” she said. “I have never had this type of experience before, and it has been extremely valuable to my playing and overall musicianship.”
The event is also somewhat of a rarity for the state, with Symphony magazine — a publication for American orchestras — listing this year’s festival as one of only five professional music festivals in Illinois.