Clef Notes

Bring your love of classical music into your inbox with Clef Notes. Join us each month as we check in with local music makers, share information about upcoming concerts, and expand our musical horizons together.

400th Anniversary of William Byrd

July 4, 2023, marks the 400th anniversary of the death of one of England’s greatest composers, William Byrd (c. 1540–1623). Described as the "Parent of British Music," William Byrd was a composer, musician, teacher, and entrepreneur of singular stature. Though today Byrd is most remembered for his sacred choral music, he mastered and advanced every genre, producing a catalogue of nearly 600 pieces. Byrd’s Catholic faith at a time when Catholic worship was illegal adds another dimension to his music and has spurred modern fascination with his life. As a recusant Catholic serving a Protestant monarch in reformed England, Byrd was in a precarious position to say the least. So it is especially remarkable that he was unwavering in his beliefs and even published them in musical form at a time when many of his friends were facing persecution. Read on to learn more about this fascinating character and to hear a playlist of some of his greatest works.

MIOpera Summer Season Preview

We sat down with John and Tracy Koch, founders and directors of MIOpera, to learn more about the Bloomington–Normal opera company and its upcoming summer season. MIOpera, founded in 2011 as the Midwest Institute of Opera, is the only professional opera company in Illinois south of Chicago and north of St. Louis. The company's 12th season will feature Gilbert and Sullivan’s witty romp The Pirates of Penzance (June 23–25) and Charles Gounod’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet (July 21–23).

Violins of Hope

Throughout the month of May, the Spurlock Museum has been home to four violins from the Violins of Hope project, a collection of over 70 stringed instruments played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust. Over the last two decades, these instruments have been lovingly collected and painstakingly restored by Israeli master violinmakers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, a father–son duo. The Violins of Hope project was established to give voice to the victims, reclaim lost heritage, and promote messages of hope and unity. The violins in the collection have since traveled the world as part of educational initiatives, exhibitions, concerts, and workshops. The Violins of Hope exhibit at Spurlock closes on Wednesday, May 31, and the final concert will take place on Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl Tavern. If you don’t get a chance to see and hear these priceless historical artifacts before they leave town, read on to learn more about the project and the stories behind these instruments.

Portrait by Mather Brown, 1787

Classically Black: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about eighteenth-century composer Joseph Bologne, aka Chevalier de Saint-Georges. In the last few years, as music organizations have sought to broaden their repertoire to historically excluded composers, Bologne’s music has seen a resurgence. And it’s no wonder. His music rivals, and even surpasses, that of his better-known contemporaries, and his biography is truly remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that a feature film was recently made on his life. Roger Cooper, longtime host on WILL-FM, was way ahead of the Chevalier mania. In 2003, he produced an episode of his show Classically Black devoted to the composer. In light of Bologne’s recent entrance into the popular consciousness, we thought we’d revisit Roger’s show, which recounts the fascinating life story of Joseph Bologne to the soundtrack of some of his works.

Summer Festival Roundup

Though most ensembles are wrapping up their 2022–23 seasons, there is no reason to despair. Warmer weather also means it’s summer festival season, so you can still scratch that live music itch. We've provided a rundown of the classical music festivals taking place aross the state this summer, including the Southern Illinois Music Festival (May 25–June 11), Peoria Bach Festival (June 5–9), and three outdoor music festivals in the Chicago area. Read on for more information and a list of editor-recommended concerts so you can plan your summer musical excursions.

Rose Wollman – Loop: Ligeti’s Inspiration & Legacy

In celebration of what would have been György Ligeti’s 100th birthday on May 28, we caught up with violist Rose Wollman to discuss her latest album, Loop: Ligeti's Inspiration and Legacy. Local audiences may already be familiar with Wollman’s work. Last February, she came to the University of Illinois campus—her alma mater—to perform the program on this album, which sheds new light on Ligeti's monumental Sonata for Viola Solo. Read on to learn more about the composer and hear from the artist herself about how this project came to be.

Five Cities Baroque Festival Preview with Director Nate Widelitz

We chatted with Nate Widelitz, Visiting Instructor of Choral Music Education at Millikin University, to discuss the Five Cities Baroque Festival, which launches in May. The inaugural festival, directed and organized by Widelitz, will assemble some of the area’s best musicians in a two-day exploration of baroque music. On Friday, May 19, catch an organ recital by Stephen Buzard at Decatur First United Methodist Church. On Saturday, May 20, the Festival Orchestra will present a concert of chamber music at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Later that evening, the festival will close with the keynote concert of choral-orchestral music by Bach and Zelenka. Read on to learn more about the festival and to meet the director.

Brahms: Academic Festival Overture

In honor of the Class of 2023, who will soon be striding across the stage to collect their diplomas, let’s take a look at a piece written for just such an occasion. No, not Pomp and Circumstance, but Academic Festival Overture by Johannes Brahms.

Sydney Laput / Daily Illini

New Awakenings with Dr. Barrington Coleman

We caught up with Dr. Barrington Coleman, Associate Professor of Voice and Director of Vocal Jazz Studies at the University of Illinois, ahead of an upcoming Prairie Fire short and radio interview with jazz bassist Christian McBride. In May 2022, Dr. Coleman brought McBride to campus as part of his "New Awakenings" concert series. While on campus, McBride gave masterclasses and performed his work The Movement Revisited: A Musical Portrait of Four Icons with student and community ensembles. Read on to learn about how this collaboration came to be and about future New Awakenings performances. Also, get a sneak peak of Jazz Week at the Studio Theater, which runs April 25–May 3.

Anja Schutz

Choral Music as Environmental Activism

Nature has long served as inspiration for composers, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony to Olivier Messiaen’s numerous evocations of birdsong. Today, some composers are taking a new approach to this age-old muse by addressing climate change and environmental conservation in their works. Read on to learn about three contemporary choral works that are shedding musical light on these pressing issues.

Illinois Public Media Clef Notes

Clef Notes

Illinois Arts Council Agency

These programs are partially sponsored by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.