Since 1903, the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra (SISO), composed of faculty and students of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), talented community members and area professionals, has brought outstanding music to Southern Illinois. In 1997, a Patrons Committee of prominent members of the community formed to raise funds and promote the orchestra as a community resource. Thus SISO serves all of southern Illinois with its component of community amateur and professional musicians, and its broad impact upon the cultural climate of the region.
In January 2001, the Illinois Council of Orchestras named SISO the Community Volunteer Orchestra of the Year in Illinois, and awarded it a Certificate of Recognition of Meritorious Programming for the 2001-2002 season. In January 2005, the Council named Music Director, Edward Benyas, Conductor of the Year in the Small Orchestra category. In 2007, Maestro Benyas received the “Keeping the Arts in Business” Award from the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce. WSIU television and radio have been valued partners with the Southern Illinois Symphony, broadcasting important performances, on local radio and television over the past half decade.
Two significant recent events were the arrival in 1994 of Music Director, Edward Benyas, and the establishment in 1997 of the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra Patrons Committee. The 45-member Patrons Committee volunteers their time year-round to promote the orchestra season, raise operating funds through corporate and individual contributions, sell program ads, increase the scholarship endowment, host pre-concert dinners, post-concert receptions and an annual benefit dinner and silent auction. Some of the musical highlights since Mr. Benyas' arrival include: An appearance on national television (C-SPAN) during the funeral of the late Senator Paul Simon in 2003; performing for President Clinton, a bevy of state and local dignitaries and an audience of 10,000 in 1995; All-American music programs for Presidents' Day, Election Day, Black History month, Veterans' Day, Copland's 100th Birthday, and the Pearl Harbor 60th Anniversary; annual concerts for school children; "Six Tenors and More!" in 2000; the first Southern Illinois performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with a 100-voice chorus in 2001; a world premiere in 2009 of a work by Jim Stephenson commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, organized by the SISO; and the production and release of several compact discs.
In Fall 2004, SISO established Klassics for Kids. This monthly concert series helps expose infants and toddlers to live classical music and jazz. Parents and Caregivers are encouraged to help youngsters develop skills appropriate for a live performance in a somewhat informal atmosphere. In Summer 2005, the SISO established a three-week long professional music festival, running from mid-June through the Fourth of July. The Festival annually includes over three-dozen performances, the majority of which are admission free, with a world-class festival orchestra and internationally recognized soloists. Concerts include orchestral and chamber music, opera, ballet, musical theater and jazz, and stretch across Southern Illinois from Mt. Vernon to Cairo. The 2009 Festival will reach the state borders near St. Louis and Cape Girardeau.
Each year, SISO engages Illinois solo artists, accompanies local chorus and opera companies; provides performance opportunities for Illinois guest conductors and composers, and hosts an annual student Solo Competition. In addition, SISO performs educational concerts several times each season for youngsters throughout the region. For each performance, SISO engages on average one dozen professional Illinois musicians. SISO is the only regional symphonic orchestra to serve the southern Illinois counties of Jackson, Williamson, Union, Johnson, Alexander, Pulaski, Massac, Pope, Saline, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson, Perry, Randolph and Washington.
Meet the Symphony
The Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra (SISO), composed of faculty and students of Southern Illinois University, talented community members and area professionals, has presented live orchestral music in Southern Illinois for over a century. The Illinois Council of Orchestras has named SISO Community Volunteer Orchestra of the Year and awarded it a Certificate of Recognition of Meritorious Programming.
The SISO has hosted such distinguished artists as Emanuel Ax, Christine Brewer, the Eroica Trio, and the concertmasters of the Philadelphia Orchestra and St. Louis Symphony. It appeared on national television (C-SPAN) during the funeral of the late Senator Paul Simon in 2003, and performed for President Clinton, a bevy of state and local dignitaries and an audience of 10,000 in 1995. The orchestra has presented All-American music programs for Presidents' Day, Election Day, Black History month, Veterans' Day, Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, Copland's 100th Birthday, and the Pearl Harbor Anniversary, as well as annual concerts for school children, a biennial Nutcracker production, the first Southern Illinois performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with a 100-voice chorus in 2001, and the production and release of several compact discs.
In Fall 2004, SISO established Klassics for Kids. This summer concert series helps expose infants and toddlers to live classical music and jazz. In 1997, a Patrons Committee of prominent members of the community formed to promote the orchestra as a community resource. The 30-member Patrons Committee volunteers their time year-round to promote the orchestra season, raise operating funds through corporate and individual contributions, sell program ads, increase the scholarship endowment, host pre-concert dinners, post-concert receptions and an annual benefit dinner.
In Summer 2005, Maestro Benyas and the SISO Patrons Committee established the Southern Illinois Music Festival (SIFest), an annual summer festival that includes over three dozen professional performances/presentations of classical music, ballet and jazz in two-dozen venues throughout Southern Illinois for three weeks in May and June. In 14 successful years of operations, audiences have steadily grown, the number and amount of individual, corporate and governmental sponsorship has increased, and the Festival has developed a national reputation for excellence. The majority of events are admission free, including over a dozen and a half geared especially for young persons, with the remaining events reasonably priced, and all performances are presented in an informal and audience-friendly manner.
More information is available at www.SouthernIllinoisSymphony.org and www.SIFest.com.
Edward Benyas is Professor of Oboe and Conducting at SIU Carbondale, Music Director of the Southern Illinois Symphony, the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra—with which he made his European conducting debut—and founder and Artistic Director of the Southern Illinois Music Festival, which presents three-dozen concerts annually each June. Mr. Benyas previously served as Music Director of the Skokie Valley Symphony, the North Shore Chamber Orchestra, Symphony Fantastique! and the Southern Illinois Youth Orchestra. He appeared on national television leading a chorus and orchestra comprised of musicians from throughout Illinois during funeral services for Senator Paul Simon. Under his leadership, the Southern Illinois Symphony was named Orchestra of the Year, and he was named Conductor of the Year, by the Illinois Council of Orchestras. A student of Ray Still, Robert Morgan and Victor Yampolsky, Mr. Benyas holds a graduate degree in Orchestral Conducting and Oboe Performance from Northwestern University, as well as Bachelor and Juris Doctor degrees from the University of Michigan. He also studied at the Pierre Monteux School for Conductors under the late Charles Bruck, and at the International Workshop for Opera Conductors with the late Georg Tintner.
Mr. Benyas has guest-conducted orchestras in California, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, Maine, North Dakota, Washington, Canada, China, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic. Important past conducting engagements include La Bohème at the Silesian State Opera, The Magic Flute at Pacific Opera, Shenzhen Symphony and Tianjin Opera Orchestra (China), New Symphony Orchestra of Bulgaria, the Des Moines Metro Opera Orchestra, the Illinois Chamber Symphony, the Northwestern University Chamber Orchestra, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the Southern Illinois Symphony Orchestra before the President and an audience of 10,000, and working with artists of international stature over 14 years with the Southern Illinois Music Festival. A California reviewer wrote: “Maestro Benyas captured every subtle nuance and capitalized upon every beautiful moment in the symphony while maintaining balance and precision. He simply swept the audience away with a beautiful presentation of this piece.” Reviewing Mozart’s Magic Flute in 2019, Opera Today wrote, “Edward Benyas indeed worked some ‘magic’ in the pit with his assured baton eliciting stylish results from a sizable orchestra. It is to Maestro Benyas’ great credit that the musical execution was of a very high order throughout.”
In 1998, Mr. Benyas helped establish the Sofia-Mt. Vitosha International Conducting Institute, where he coached rising young conductors from the United States, South America and Europe. Since 1998, Mr. Benyas has led the New Chicago Chamber Orchestra on numerous tours of the Midwest. His conducted repertoire includes nearly 400 works, including a dozen world premieres and over two-dozen complete operas and ballets.
Mr. Benyas also enjoys an active career as an oboe and English horn player, having performed with the Chicago Symphony under Daniel Barenboim, the Lyric Opera under Zubin Mehta, the Milwaukee and Grant Park Symphonies, the Ravinia Festival Orchestra, at the Spoleto, Banff and Carmel Bach summer music festivals, as Principal Oboe for Andrea Bocelli’s National Tour, as founder/director of The Oak Street Winds and as Principal Oboist of the Des Moines Metro Opera. The late Robert Marsh of the Chicago Sun-Times described his “beautiful tone and precise intonation” during the famous oboe solo in the Brahms Violin Concerto. His 2002 appearance as conductor and oboe soloist with Rachel Barton and the Chicago Chamber Orchestra was broadcast on WSIU public television, and his appearance with The Oak Street Winds on the Dame Myra Hess Recital Series was broadcast live nationally on 300 affiliate radio stations. Mr. Benyas has served on the Boards of Directors of the International Conductors Guild, the Illinois Council of Orchestras, the WSIU Friends Board, and the SISO Patrons Committee. In 2007, he received the “Keeping the Arts in Business” Award from the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, in 2012 the Southern Business Journal named him a “Leader Among Us,” in 2015 he received the Carbondale Community Arts Legacy Award, in 2017 he received the David Kenney award from the Carbondale Lions Club and he was named the Southern Illinois University College of Liberal Arts Outstanding Scholar in 2018. He has served as an elected Board Member of both Jackson County and the Carbondale Elementary School District, is a member of the state bar of Illinois, and practiced law for five years in Chicago before pursuing music full-time.