Long Island has a new professional symphony orchestra.
Six months after the sudden demise of the Long Island Philharmonic, Chamber Players International announced that it is forming the Long Island Concert Orchestra in collaboration with David Stewart Wiley, the former music director and conductor the Philharmonic.
“We believe that Long Island deserves its own classical music orchestra,” says David Winkler, director of the chamber ensemble, which itself is a descendant of another defunct Long Island classical music institution — the Sea Cliff Chamber Players.
Wiley said by phone from Virginia, where he serves as music director of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, that he expects it will be “spring or summer before we have our first full-scale concerts,” adding that the new orchestra will have a similar mission as the Long Island Philharmonic, “performing classical programs of past and present composers of the great symphonic repertoire.”
No venues for the orchestra have been announced yet. But Winkler said negotiations are underway with Tilles Center for future dates as well as with the Islip Arts Council and the Huntington Arts Council, both of which hosted concerts last summer performed by former Philharmonic musicians conducted by Wiley.
“We’re thrilled to have the support of an organization with a track record of stability,” Wiley said of the chamber players and its board president Ronald Phipps, who added, “We look forward to a creative and dynamic collaboration.”
Sea Cliff Chamber Players, established in 1971, was a resident orchestra at Tilles Center along with the Philharmonic. Following the sudden death of co-founder Herbert Sucoff in 1996, the group changed its name to Chamber Players International and ceded the role of major orchestral events to the Long Island Philharmonic. Now an ensemble of about 20 musicians, the chamber group performs musical cuisine concerts at Old Westbury Gardens and Huntington’s Coindre Hall.
Wiley said Monday that he was in contact with former Philharmonic board members and hoped that “public and private support for our orchestra will be forthcoming.” But the new group must maintain distance from the former Philharmonic board because creditors could go after the new entity for debts incurred by the disbanded orchestra. The Philharmonic dissolved in February after New Jersey-based Valley National Bank refused to renegotiate terms of its loan to the orchestra.
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“We talked about resurrecting the Long Island Philharmonic name,” says Wiley, “but the point is to bring back the music and the mission, not the name.”
The mission includes educational outreach to Long Island school districts, programs that continued through BOCES last spring even after the Philharmonic’s demise. In addition, Islip Arts Council director Lynda Moran, who had already secured grants to pay for the council’s annual free Heckscher State Park concert in July, asked Wiley to reassemble his former Philharmonic musicians for the event. John Chicherio of the Huntington Arts Council did the same for the annual Summer Arts Festival concert in August.
Chamber Players International got involved with Wiley and the former Philharmonic musicians almost immediately after the announcement that the orchestra had disbanded. The Philharmonic was booked for a private February event at Tilles for the Young Professionals of Long Island, a group of 40-and-younger corporate executives. “Suddenly we were without an orchestra,” says Winkler. “David came through for us,” he said of Wiley and the musicians he brought back for the occasion.
The new orchestra, Winkler says, will operate initially without a union contract. The Philharmonic’s freelance musicians were paid in accordance with a Local 802 contract. But for programs already scheduled, such as the BOCES educational outreach, musicians will be paid union scale, Winkler says.
“We hope to announce concert dates in the next few weeks,” says Winkler, adding that it’s more than likely that the summer parks concerts will continue as they have even through the lean years of the Philharmonic’s debt-ridden years of subscription-season retrenchment. “We’re not ready to announce a subscription season at this time,” Winkler says. “But we would hope to sometime in the future.”