Southern Illinois Music Festival 2017: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

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Shryock Auditorium
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Who: Maestro Edward Benyas
What: Southern Illinois Music Festival (jazz)
When: 2017-05-26 - 2017-06-11
The thirteenth annual Southern Illinois Music Fest features more than three-dozen performances throu
Leah Williams
Video Comentary

The thirteenth annual Southern Illinois Music Fest features more than three-dozen performances throughout the area.

The festival begins Friday, May 26, and continues through Sunday, June 11, with shows in Carbondale, Marion, Cairo, and Carterville, among other communities.

This year’s program includes Mozart’s masterpiece Don Giovanni, updated with a gangster theme sung in Italian and backed by a full orchestra June 9 and 11 at Shryock Auditorium. Three large orchestral concerts on June 2, 3, and 4 at the Carterville High School Performing Arts Center feature the works of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. A Memorial Day show May 29 at Marion High School is modeled on a Washington, D.C. performance. The Southern Illinois Music Festival will also present a virtuoso organ recital by Adam Brakel June 5 at Shryock.

In addition, chamber-music performances, concerts by the New Arts Jazztet, and Klassics for Kids and Jive with Jazz events geared toward younger listeners will all take place throughout Southern Illinois.

For more about the festival, including a full schedule of events and ticket information, visit <http://SIFest.com>.

Nightlife swapped emails with director Ed Benyas to discuss what’s new with this year’s festival and what about it captures the attention of music lovers. Here is an edited transcript.

What can the public expect from some of special events like Don Giovanni and the orchestral shows in Carterville? And how did the theme An Offer You Can’t Refuse come about?

Don Giovanni is one of the masterpieces of Western music, no matter how it is set dramatically. This is actually the second time we have done the opera. The first time was at the 2007 festival, but this time we are updating the setting to revolve around gangsters, with guns instead of the swords from Mozart’s time. Thus, referring to the famous line from The Godfather, “Make him an offer he can’t refuse,” makes perfect sense, and it also tells the public that this entire festival is one they won’t want to miss.

We also return to Carterville High School for three large orchestral concerts featuring the music of Dvorak and Tchaikovsky on June 2, 3 and 4. Highlights from these three programs are three fabulous soloists from our own ranks: violinists Michelle Skinner and Kiril Laskarov, and cellist David Peshlakai. Michelle and David play fabulous concertos by Tchaikovsky and Dvorak, and Kiril is bringing a priceless Stradivarius violin to reprise his 2015 performance of the finale of the Sibelius Violin Concerto on June 4.

And we are also exploring new venues— at the Varsity Center for several smaller ensemble performances— in addition to many smaller venues.

The Memorial Day show looks to be something special and a nice patriotic way to spend the holiday. What were you looking for when you were coming up with songs for the concert?

For the first time, we are doing a Memorial Day tribute, which we hope will become an annual event. This year it will be at the brand-new Marion High School, which is a fabulous new venue, with a sixty-piece orchestra and thirty-voice chorus on stage. It is a concert of exciting patriotic music and is admission free.

It will include some music related to the Civil War, which was the driving force behind the nation’s first Memorial Day event right here in Carbondale, and World War II. Highlights include Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, written at the height of World War II, and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” in a wonderful arrangement for chorus and orchestra featuring the stirring Civil War melody. We’ve also asked Marion mayor Robert Butler to narrate the Gettysburg Address. Our choir will sing a total of four selections with orchestra, including a musical salute to our Armed Forces.

Now in its thirteenth year, what do you think makes the festival such a draw?

I started the festival in 2005 in large part so that I would not have to travel to perform in other summer festivals and be away from my family, but also to bring high-level professional artistry to Southern Illinois. What we have found over the last dozen years is an extremely loyal and receptive audience and private donors who support this important cultural resource.

We also rely on about thirty host families who house our out-of-town professional artists, and most of these hosts open their homes each year to the same artists, having developed close relationships with the artists they host. So it is definitely a community-supported event, to which all involved look forward to each year.

The festival has received accolades regionally and nationally for being a premier summer activity as well as one of a handful of the professional music festivals around. What do you think it is about the Southern Illinois Music Festival that has helped it receive such distinctions?

Well, there are a couple of important points. First of all, this is a professional festival, which is something the region does not experience during the regular school year or regular season. So the quality of the art is high, with a lot of performances in a short time period. Secondly, outreach throughout the Southern Illinois region has always been an important aspect of what we do. For example, we have performed several concerts in Cairo each year of our existence in the historic Cairo Public Library, and for the last several years we perform at the Anna Arts Center, thus serving residents in Union and Alexander Counties. We also present Klassics for Kids and Jive with Jazz [for children] in about a dozen venues each year, and our venue hosts look forward to having the groups come back annually.

Is there anything you would like to add?

One great and economical way to enjoy many festival events is to buy our all-festival pass, which is available in advance from the SIU Arena ticket office or online for $100. This is a $160 value, there is no waiting in line to buy tickets, and it includes a parking pass for the opera.

who: Maestro Edward Benyas

what: Southern Illinois Music Festival

where: various locations


when: Monday, May 26 through Sunday, June 11

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