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Belleville Philharmonic Has Played In The Metro East For 155 Years. This Year, It’s Free.

The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1866, is the second oldest orchestra in the country. It's concerts will be free this year.
Steve Nagy
Belleville News-Democrat
The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra, founded in 1866, is the second oldest orchestra in the country. Its concerts will be free this year.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

The Philharmonic Society of Belleville has brought music and arts to the metro-east for 155 years, which makes it the second oldest orchestra in the nation.

This summer, they’re showcasing their musicianship for free.

“Our mission is to brig music to the metro-east and we want to have as few barriers as possible for anyone who wants to come to attend our concerts,” said the president of the Belleville Philharmonic Society Ethan Edwards.

In prior years, ticket prices varied depending on the specific event but most performances were $10 or more. The orchestra also gave the public an option of buying season tickets which ranged from $75 to $85.

Each year, the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra performs The Nutcracker with the Belleville School of Ballet at Christmas time. The event will be the only program this season that is not free of charge, general admission for all ages is $25.

The Nutcracker will be a two day event that will take place at Love Church in Belleville, 1549 Frank Scott Parkway West, on Saturday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 21 at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

“The Nutcracker has specific expenses. We bring in soloists from New York that are quite expensive,” said Edwards. “The cost associated with The Nutcracker is why we still have an admission charge.”

“There are expenses that we can’t cover but we’re really interested in expanding our audience so we decided to offer all of our other programs for free admission. We encourage as many people as possible to come.”

One of the oldest orchestras in the U.S.

The Philharmonic Society of Belleville is a non-profit organization that supports music and arts in the community. It was founded in 1866, making it one of the country’s oldest, second only the New York Philharmonic, which was founded in 1842.

The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra was established by a group of German immigrants, several of the immigrants were veterans returning from the Civil War.

The orchestra’s first concert was held on Jan. 26, 1867 at the City Park Auditorium.

Today, the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra is lead by Dr. Robert Hart Baker. It is comprised of three groups: the youth and symphony orchestra, and chorale. The orchestra is made up of about 60 talented musicians.

More free cultural events

The orchestra’s first free event of the season was an outdoor performance of Peter and The Wolf on July 18 at Bellevue Park, after taking a year off.

The orchestra will be hosting the second annual Evening on Abend with the Belleville Philharmonic on Sunday, Sep. 11. The event will take place at 221 Abend St in Belleville at 7 p.m.

The event is described as “an enchanting evening beneath the stars while the harmonious sounds of the Belleville Philharmonic fill the evening air.” Wine and charcuterie boxes will be offered to the audience, the donation will go towards the Belleville Philharmonic Society.

The Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra will also host the Stars Of Tomorrow concert in October and a festival holiday concert in December in addition to three concerts that will be held in the spring.

The orchestra had to end its 2019-2020 season early due to the pandemic. Despite being stuck in the house, the orchestra came up with a creative way to continue performing.

“We did a few live-stream concerts but we couldn’t meet in a large group. We’re hoping that the restrictions that were lifted are not going back into effect,” said Edwards. “Like everyone else, we follow regulations.

“If we get limits on how many people can gather, we won’t be able to perform. According to the new restrictions, we’re going to be resuming our rehearsals in August. I hope to have our regular series of concerts for the public throughout the upcoming year.”

Edwards said he is currently searching for venues that are large enough for the orchestra to perform so there will plenty of room for the audience.

The orchestra’s concert schedule has yet to be announced to the public but it is in the process of being completed, Edwards said.

If you’re interested in joining the Belleville Philharmonic Orchestra, you can visit the Belleville Philharmonic Society’s Facebook page where contact information is listed.

Amoni Lewis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.