June 10, 2008

Southern Illinois Music Festival coming to St. Louis

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Southern Illinois Music Festival, a multi-venue, 50-plus musical performance series formed as a musical outreach of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, comes to St. Louis this year for the first time ever.

The festival, now in its fourth year, began as a way to bring a wide variety of classical and jazz music, featuring award-winning musicians, to Southern Illinois. Since then, the popularity of the festival inspired Edward Benyas, festival founder and artistic director, to add sites to the festival’s mobile concert list -- including St Louis.

The Southern Illinois Music Festival Orchestra includes a core of musicians from the Chicago Chamber Orchestra. The concert, “A Night of Romance,” begins at 7:30 p.m. June 27 at St. Ambrose Catholic Church on the Hill (5112Wilson Ave.). The program features Brahms’ “Symphony No. 3,” Debussy’s “Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun,” and excerpts from Puccini’s “La Boheme.”

The Romance in the concert’s title refers to the Romantic Movement that encompassed Europe and the young United States in the mid-18th century. Romanticism showed itself in the literary and visual arts as well as in music. It was a movement characterized by an almost melancholy regard for the past and an idealization and nearly worshipful appreciation of nature. The movement was a reaction against purely scientific rationalization, against the meaner aspects of the Industrial Revolution and the loftiness of the Age of Enlightenment. Those artists at the forefront of the movement elevated emotion and experience to new levels in every area of the arts. This concert offers a sampling of three of the better-known Romantic composers.

Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 debuted in Vienna in 1883. The third movement of the symphony contains a famous melody that will be familiar to many in the audience. Brahms was a close friend of Clara and Robert Schumann, and his friendship with Clara continued after her husband’s mental breakdown and death. Brahms sent Clara the third symphony for her review. She described it as conveying “the mysterious charm of the woods and forests.”

Debussy’s orchestral composition takes its inspiration from a poem of the same name by Stéphane Mallarmé. The “Prelude” is appended because the piece was originally meant to be a three-movement composition, though ultimately Debussy revised the “Prelude” into an independent work. It debuted in Paris in 1894 to an enthusiastic audience and slightly baffled critics. Mallarmé visited Debussy some time before the premiere and gave the work his warm blessing.

La Boheme is a famous story, one that has seen resurgence in popularity in the last decade, of a starving artist and a poor seamstress whose love is interrupted by a bout of tuberculosis. For all its Romanticism -- and romance -- the story deals with some very practical themes.

Tickets for the performance are $15 for general admission and $6 for students of all ages. Reserve seating by calling 314/771-1228.

The Festival is one of the largest of its kind in Illinois, and has plenty to offer to lure St. Louis residents over the river. Highlights include performances of Rossini’s opera “The Barber of Seville” at the Sesser Opera House and at Shryock Auditorium on the SIUC campus; chamber music on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail; soprano soloist Christine Brewer performing “Four Last Songs” by Strauss at Shryock Auditorium and at McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill.; the Festival Orchestra performing a patriotic music concert on the infield at Rent One Park, home to the Frontier League baseball team, the Southern Illinois Miners; and programming for children at more than a dozen different sites.

More information about the entire Southern Illinois Music Festival, including a complete schedule and performer biographies, is at www.SIFest.com. While you’re there, check out the performances at Southeast Missouri State University on June 25, featuring violinist David Kim.