Metro-East Living

Here’s your first chance to see the new Philharmonic director in action

Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra prepares for first concert of the season

It's a mix of old and new for the second-oldest, continuously performing orchestra in the country.
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It's a mix of old and new for the second-oldest, continuously performing orchestra in the country.

Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra will celebrate the past, present and future during the first concert of its 150th season on Saturday.

The past will be remembered through overtures from two operas, “Tancredi” and “The Caliph of Baghdad,” which the orchestra played at its inaugural on Jan. 26, 1867.

“It’s been surprisingly meaningful to me, sitting in that hall and playing that music and thinking, ‘This is what people were doing in 1867, and we’re doing the same thing,’” said board president Ethan Edwards, 54, who plays cello.

“It’s mind-boggling, really. And it’s good music. It’s not this stuff that nobody wants to play. It’s enjoyable.”

The present is represented by the orchestra’s new music director, Robert Hart Baker, who will be conducting his first Belleville Philharmonic concert and introducing about 10 new musicians to the community.

The future comes in the form of three teenage performers, who recently won the Stars of Tomorrow concerto competition.

It was founded by people who wanted to re-establish an appreciation of the arts and a sense of normalcy after the turmoil of the Civil War.

Ethan Edwards on Belleville Philharmonic

“It gives young people with advanced training a chance to play with a live symphony orchestra and conductor,” said Baker, 62. “Most of the time, they only have a piano accompanist.”

The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium. Tickets range from $5 to $18.

German immigrants organized the Belleville Philharmonic in 1866. It’s the second-oldest, continuously performing orchestra in the country.

“It was founded by people who wanted to re-establish an appreciation of the arts and a sense of normalcy after the turmoil of the Civil War,” Edwards said.

Charter members included Phillip Gundlach, great-great-great-grandfather to Barbara Compton, current board treasurer who sings with the Philharmonic Chorale.

Compton, 56, knew that her father, Theodore F. Gundlach, served as board president in the 1990s, but she was surprised to see Phillip’s name on a plaque at Philharmonic Hall.

“It’s a very unique feeling to think that I’m involved in something that’s been around so long, and one of my ancestors was involved in the beginning,” she said. “It’s fulfilling. I think the arts are a very important part of culture.”

It gives young people with advanced training a chance to play with a live symphony orchestra and conductor.

Robert Hart Baker on Stars of Tomorrow competition

Saturday’s concert will kick off with “Tancredi Overture” by Italian Gioacchino Rossini and “The Caliph of Baghdad Overture” by Frenchman Francois-Adrien Boieldieu.

Then the audience will hear from Stars of Tomorrow winners: Violinist Hannah O’Brien, violinist Rich Qian and cellist Alex Cho.

“The pool of (12) contestants for this year’s competition was extremely talented,” said committee chair Kathryn Lakiotis. “It was hard to choose just three winners.”

Hannah, 17, of Nerinx Hall High School in Webster Groves, Mo., will join the orchestra on “Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor” by Sergei Prokofiev.

Rich, 13, of St. Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in Ladue, Mo., will join on “Violin Concerto No. 2 in D Minor” by Henri Wieniawski.

Alex, 14, of Marquette High School in Chesterfield, Mo., will join on “Variations on a Rococo Theme” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“The pieces the winners will be performing are among the most challenging concert pieces in the literature,” Lakiotis said.

The concert’s second half will be Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” (“Symphony No. 8 in B Minor”), along with a third movement that Baker researched and reconstructed.

He became interested in the musical mystery as an 18-year-old student in Vienna, Austria, house-sitting on the street where Schubert lived.

Baker has conducted orchestra performances of the 40-minute finished symphony twice in the past 25 years, first in York, Penn., and later in Asheville, N.C.

“Anytime I get to do this piece, it’s a big thrill,” he said, noting few conductors have taken on the challenge, so Belleville residents are getting a rare opportunity.

The Philharmonic is based in a former kindergarten building on Jackson Street that it bought from the school district for $1 in the late 1800s.

Members of the chorale and adult and youth orchestras are all volunteers. They show up for rehearsals because they love the music, challenge, history and camaraderie.

“The only (American) orchestra that’s older is the New York Philharmonic,” Edwards said. “With that heritage, we have a real responsibility to keep this organization thriving.”

At a glance

  • What: Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra concert
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium, 2600 W. Main St.
  • Admission: $15 in advance or $18 at the door for adults, $12 or $15 for senior citizens 55 and older and active military and $5 for students
  • Season tickets: $65 for adults, $55 for senior citizens and military and $30 for students (six concerts)
  • Information: Visit www.bellevillephilharmonic.org, call 618-235-5600 or email to info@bellevillephilharmonic.org
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