Metro-East Living

Belleville Philharmonic teams with Celtica for Young at Heart concert

The Irish group Celtica includes, from left: Paul Niesen, Charlie Nesmith, Cheryl Schaefer and Allison Niesen. Celtica will perform at the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra concert on Sunday.
The Irish group Celtica includes, from left: Paul Niesen, Charlie Nesmith, Cheryl Schaefer and Allison Niesen. Celtica will perform at the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra concert on Sunday.

The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra is teaming up with local Irish band Celtica to bring you a spring concert that truly is “Young at Heart.”

“I just love the music,” said Robert Charles Howard, conductor and music director of the second-oldest orchestra in the nation (first concert was in 1867). “It’s all popular music coming from all kinds of different channels, including movies and TV.

“We’re also teaming up with Celtica, a local Irish group that plays very fresh-sounding, toe-tapping stuff. And, we’re celebrating the increasing talent and popularity of our Youth Orchestra.” The Youth Orchestra join forces with the senior orchestra in playing “The Empire Strikes Back” theme.

Robert said he is making a conscious effort to stay current.

“With the recent release of the new ‘Star Wars (The Force Awakens)’ film, those themes are evident in ‘The Empire Strikes Back.’

“We’ll be playing the theme from ‘Downton Abbey’ coincidentally on the day the last episode airs. Many of our orchestra members watch it, so it’s very exciting for them and the audience. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ also is very exciting, very popular music.”

“Dance of the Hours” by Amilcare Ponchelli, “will bring smiles to a lot of faces,” Robert said. “Everyone will recognize it as the music from Allan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah (A Letter from Camp).” A lot of people will remember the words to the song.”

The local band Celtica will perform its Irish tunes intermittently during the concert on traditional instruments including bodhran (hand drum), guitar, Irish penny whistle, flute, mandolin, banjo and box accordion. They will play along with the Philharmonic on two Irish tunes arranged for orchestra by Celtica leader Paul Niesen, of Fairview Heights.

“Paul wrote ‘Celtic Medley,’ his first piece for orchestra, and we fell in love with it instantly,” Robert said. “Now he has written another one, ‘McFarlane’s Lament.’

“Celtic Medley” combines three Irish tunes, “Going Home,” “Falling Off the Bicycle” and a traditional Irish reel.

“They run the gamut of emotions,” said Paul, 54, a civilian employee at Scott Air Force Base. “‘Falling Off the Bicycle’ — there might be a wee bit of liquor or beer involved there.

“‘McFarlane’s Lament’ is a sad song. It’s slow, a little like watching paint dry,” he joked. “We haven’t heard the orchestra play it yet, but Robert says it sounds good.”

Celtica’s personnel fluctuates, but Paul expected nine members to play on Sunday. There are five core members, including Paul’s daughter Allison, of Belleville, a government help desk administrator who sings and plays whistle; percussionist Charlie Nesmith, of Bel-Nor, Mo., a radiology film librarian; Cheryl Schaefer, of Collinsville, a classically trained flutist; Eric Olstad, who plays banjo and box accordion; and Paul.

How did the Belleville Philhamonic and Celtica get together?

“I’ve known Paul for years since he and his daughter both played clarinet in the Intergenerational Orchestra,” Robert said. “With the band, it was like an accident.

“One night, we (Robert and wife Robin) stopped in at Castletown Geoghegan and they were playing with Celtica. We were blown away by them. I said, ‘You’ve got to perform with the orchestra.’ They have a great rapport with the audience.”

Celtica fits right in with the concert theme.

“The Young at Heart concert is just that,” Robert said. “The music speaks to the youth in all of us. It’s exciting and vivid. It will make an immediate connection with the audience.”

At a glance

Here’s what you need to know about the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra concert.

  • What: “Young at Heart” concert featuring the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra and Celtica
  • When: 3 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Lindenwood University Auditorium, 2600 West Main St. in Belleville
  • Tickets: In advance at : $15 adult; $12 55-plus and military; $7 student. At the door: $18 adults; $15 for 55-plus and military; $10 students.