For nearly 60 years, summers in Glen Cove have meant the Summer Music Festival in Morgan Park, which kicked off on July 1 with a celebration of Americana, and continued last Sunday with a memorial performance dedicated to Marguerite Suozzi, who, until her death last autumn, was instrumental in planning and managing the annual concert series.
On the evening of the July 8 concert, there was an air of serenity in the venue’s natural amphitheater. Light from the setting sun — which reflected off the Long Island Sound, the backdrop for the stage — streamed in through surrounding trees. Gentle piano and sultry bowed-string tones and sweet vocals poured across the park’s gentle slopes, where the audience sat in lawn chairs and on picnic blankets as younger children raced about.
“One of the missions my mother always had was to promote young artists,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a former mayor of Glen Cove and Marguerite’s son, adding, “She devoted a big part of her life to that.” The concert in her honor featured young artists from the area who had showcased their musical ability in the annual Marguerite Suozzi Young Performers’ Talent Competition.
Competitors were asked to perform a number of pieces from several genres, according to Cindy Rogers, a spokeswoman for the festival, “to see how diversified they are” and to make sure they had a mastery beyond just one piece of music.
“We had some amazing talent,” Suozzi said. “Last year we had a lot of vocalists. This year we had a lot of piano players.”
The event gives locals a chance to experience high-quality music, and to celebrate the young people who perform it. Some of them have gone on to play in some quite impressive places. Nikki Blonski became the star of the 2007 movie-musical “Hairspray,” and the Kende sisters, a trio of string players, played for the pope in Vatican City.
The Young Performers competition was the second of nine weekly Music Festival concerts scheduled for July and August, a lineup that follows an Americana arc from folk to country, with the Bee Gees and “Jersey Boys” in between. “We like to get a little bit of everything in there,” Rogers said.
Asked what acts he was most looking forward to, Suozzi said he was excited about all of them, noting, “I’ll be grooving every week.”
The festival gives local musicians, like John Taylor and Phil White, the chance to share a bill with better-known acts like Gathering Time and Tom Chapin, Rogers said. “We bring in a lot of talent from all over,” she added, “but we want to make sure not to overlook our local talent.”
The rich history of the festival, a Glen Cove tradition for many families, makes it not only entertaining, but also meaningful. In 1932, the financier J.P. Morgan donated Morgan Park to the people of Glen Cove in memory of his wife. In 1959, then-Mayor Joseph Suozzi — Marguerite’s husband — suggested that there be free concerts in the park, and reached out to prominent locals to organize what would ultimately become the Summer Music Festival.
At the beginning, it was just one show, but it expanded over the years into performances each weekend in July and August. Eventually the festival outgrew the original gazebo. Volunteers raised money for a new stage, the current semicircle bandstand with a set of classic pillars. The stage, like the concerts, was funded entirely through private donations.
Last fall, the festival lost two of its stalwart leaders, Marge Suozzi and Nancy Epstein. On Earth Day this April, trees and benches were added to the park to honor them and their service to the community. This will be the first festival without their leadership.
Rogers, who had worked with Suozzi and Epstein for many years, said, “They will be missed.”