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The Statesman


Silence of the Symphony: Long Island Philharmonic closes

The Long Island Philharmonic with conductor David Stewart Wiley, above, announced in early Feb, that it will shut down. PHOTO CREDIT: BRUCE GILBERT
The Long Island Philharmonic with conductor David Stewart Wiley, above, announced in early February that it will shut down. PHOTO CREDIT: BRUCE GILBERT

In an abrupt farewell, the Long Island Philharmonic announced in early February that it will close immediately.

Upsetting audiences and music lovers across Long Island, the philharmonic will stop performing after 36 years of concerts loved by the community.

“It is just very sad,” Lillian Barbash said. Barbash and her late husband, Murray Barbash, were members of the founding board of the Long Island Philharmonic.

The couple crusaded to bring quality music events from a local orchestra to Long Island.

“It seems like everybody is going to have to hear music on their iPhone or iPad and will have no chance to see it live and be there and hear music at its height,” Barbash said.

Financial issues were cited as the cause of the group’s swift departure from performing.

“The board of directors worked very hard over the last five years to get its finances back into the black, but the banks demands were overwhelming, and they gave us no chance to work out a payment schedule,” Lawrence Levy, a member of the board of directors said. “That would’ve gotten them their money and kept the music playing.”

The Long Island Philharmonic is not the first group to stop the music.

It is part of a national pattern of orchestral closings and musical bankruptcies. However, the Long Island Philharmonic outlived other nearby musical groups.

Also feeling the financial strain, the New York City Opera filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The Brooklyn Philharmonic closed in 2013, and the Syracuse Symphony closed and reopened, only to close again in 2011.

Retired music professor at Syracuse University John Laverty attributes these cultural casualties to the 2008 economic downward turn.

“It [the closings]  is not just a lone locality,” Laverty said, “You have to think about it on a macro-level,” he said.

The bigger issue at hand is the lack of funding for fine arts and performing arts ranging from beginner levels or talent all the way to professional groups, like the Long Island Philharmonic.

“It [the recession] was the thing that pushed a lot of orchestras to a place where they have to restructure,” Laverty said.

Highly acclaimed orchestras and symphonies were in economic danger, Laverty said, like the San Antonio Symphony, the Louisville Orchestra and, to the music community’s biggest surprise according to Laverty, the Chicago Philharmonic.

“It was pretty ugly,” Laverty said. “They limped along life support through donations.”

The cost of running a philharmonic can get expensive to the point where ticket sales alone cannot cover the cost, Laverty said. A typical philharmonic employs 60 to 90 musicians.

There is hope for some philharmonics, like the Chicago Philharmonic’s revival, Laverty said.

“There are orchestras that come through the financial down turn and kept afloat,” Laverty said.

The Chicago Philharmonic, aside from profit and donations, raised funds through recording their classical creations. The group’s music was featured in the soundtrack for the film “Lincoln” directed by Steven Spielberg.

“They are putting out wonderful product,” Laverty said. “A product people are willing to spend money on.”

Former chairman of the Long Island Philharmonic and former Stony Brook business professor Larry Austin expressed his disappointment about the closing.

“We put thirty years in it,” Austin said. “It is a great orchestra we enjoyed playing Long Island.”

Austin was a personal friend of the late folk singer Harry Chapin when he founded the philharmonic in 1979.

“I was there on New Year’s Eve with 2,000 people,” Austin said. “Two thousand people are going to lose the philharmonic.”

Aside from formal concerts, the Long Island Philharmonic performed in local parks and schools across the island, Austin said. The philharmonic has performed in venues like Eisenhower Park as well as Stony Brook’s very own Staller Center before the rise of the Stony Brook University Symphony Orchestra.

“These people are not going to be able to go to the music,” Austin said.

“The arts are taking a different course today, you are not getting it live, and I don’t know if it is a good replacement,” Barbash said. “There is something you lose when you are not right there when the music is performed.”

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