Since 1986, the university has hosted the Lillian and Robert Utsey Chamber Music Series. Started with the simple of goal of offering outstanding performances to the public at no cost, the Utsey Series has presented nearly 135 concerts to an estimated audience of 87,750 audience members over the past 28 years.
A $20,000 donation and a matching grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities established the Lillian and Robert Utsey Series Chamber Music Endowment, a fund that has the distinction of being South Carolina’s only funding source strictly dedicated to presenting free chamber music. Over the years, nearly 800 individuals, families, and businesses have given to the endowment, which funds four free performances each year.
As South Carolina’s largest land-grant institution, Clemson University is charged to provide public service and outreach to the citizens of the Palmetto State. Traditionally, that mission was fulfilled in the form of agricultural assistance and community development. Today, public service and outreach means cultural enrichment as well. The Utsey Series is an integral component of exposing South Carolinians to classical music. This is achieved not only by providing free performances in Clemson, but also by broadcasting performance excerpts and interviews with musicians on the South Carolina Educational Television/Radio Network. Your Day, a magazine-style program produced by Clemson University Radio Productions for the network, regularly features these performances and interviews. It is estimated that nearly 25,000 public radio patrons in South Carolina tune in to the program on a daily basis.
In 2000, Chamber Music, a national magazine dedicated to chamber music, recognized the Utsey Chamber Music Series and Clemson University for 15 years of community service. Additional national recognition has come from a partnership with National Public Radio (NPR). Since 1997, Performance Today, a classical music program produce by American Public Radio and aired on NPR stations across the country, has broadcast selections of Utsey Series performances. To date, the show has featured 40 performances from the series. It is estimated that nearly10 million listeners have heard concerts recorded in the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, placing the series among the nation’s finest chamber music presenters.
More importantly, the Utsey Chamber Music Series is helping to develop a new generation of classical music lovers in South Carolina. As part of the Eskridge Tri-ART Series, the Brooks Center’s educational outreach program for K-12 students, the series offers specially designed morning programs that introduce kids to the beauty of classical music. Utsey Series artists give informative and interactive presentations that stimulate their curiosity. Often the children are so inspired by the morning presentations that their parents bring them to evening performances. The Utsey Series is often the only time that many children and their parents are exposed to live superior musicianship and outstanding repertoire. Since 1994 when the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts at Clemson University opened, the Utsey Chamber Music Series has presented 46 educational performances of classical music for more than 15,000 children.
In 2007, Clemson University was selected to receive an Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award given by the South Carolina Arts Commission. The Verner Award, the official Governor’s Award for the Arts, is the state’s highest arts award. The university was recognized for its support of the series and the series was honored for its outstanding contributions to the arts in South Carolina by a government institution. The award was presented in the State Capitol.