For nearly 40 years, it’s been mostly about the music at the annual Philharmonic Concert in the Park. Fireworks by Grucci are a draw, as they will be again Saturday night at Heckscher State Park. It’s also been about saluting Long Island heroes. And while the sponsoring Islip Arts Council again promotes its free concert as an opportunity to “Honor Our Hometown Heroes,” some of the heroics this time around will be performed live by musicians formerly known as the Long Island Philharmonic.
Saturday’s concert is the first by musicians of the Philharmonic since it disbanded in February when Valley National Bank rejected a proposed restructuring of its loan. Former Philharmonic music director David Stewart Wiley will conduct his colleagues in a program featuring a world premiere, “Light the Torch,” by Reynard Burns of Bayport, a composer, bandleader and retired Bay Shore school district music teacher. The piece is in observance of the 75th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen who defied Army assumptions that black men can’t fly.
“I’ve tried to imagine how that made them feel,” Burns says of his orchestral piece. “I wrote it in their honor.” In a similar recognition of the first African-American pilots who flew World War II combat missions, Burns’ arrangement of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” was played at the 2010 Philharmonic Concert in the Park, when more Tuskegee survivors were able to attend. Only one airman, Audley Coulthurst of Jamaica, Queens, is expected Saturday. Being honored posthumously is Roscoe Brown, who died on July 2. Brown shot down a German fighter and went on to become president of Bronx Community College.
United Way administrator Matthew Burrier of Deer Park, a veteran Army specialist assigned in 2008-09 to protect unarmed chaplains in Iraq, will speak at intermission while collection hats are passed around.
SAVING THE DAY
But the concert and salutes might have been canceled if not for Wiley and Islip Arts Council director Lynda Moran. “As soon as I heard the Philharmonic was folding, I called David,” she recalls. Moran had two grants for the concert — $50,000 from the Suffolk Legislature sponsored by William Lindsay and Tom Cilmi, and $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. But contracts for each specified that the Long Island Philharmonic would perform.
“David stepped up and made it happen,” Moran says. As a result, 44 musicians from the Philharmonic, led by Wiley, were enough to satisfy contractual terms.
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New this year is a guest vocalist, Christina Chirumbolo, singing several selections. Also on the program: John Williams’ “Prayer for Peace” Olympic tribute written for Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich.” The fireworks finale: “The 1812 Overture” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The musicians return in August to play a classical concert at the other Heckscher Park, in Huntington, for the Summer Arts Festival. After that, who knows? But former Philharmonic board members have been encouraging people with deep pockets to dig deeper to form a new Islandwide orchestra.