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Free concerts cancelled at Forest Park

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A lack of funding forced the Queens Symphony Orchestra to cancel two of the summer concerts the organization normally holds free for the public in Forest Park, the group’s director said.

The curtain has been drawn on the concerts planned for Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 because Queens Symphony Orchestra Director Lynda Herndon said her group, like arts organizations throughout the city, have been hard hit by the economic recession and have had to curtail programming in order to make ends meet.

“We said, ‘What is the realistic thing we need to do right now?’” Herndon said. “If we reduced some things, we could still do everything we do, but in a smaller way. If we had done all four concerts, it would’ve meant we’d have to cut something else next season.”

The orchestra already held two of its free summer concerts, one at Forest Park July 26 and one at St. John’s July 29. Herndon said she believes the 57-year-old orchestra will be able to hold its four free concerts next summer because it is pursuing funds from former donors and businesses likely to support the group’s wide variety of programming planned for 2010.

The orchestra has suffered because the recession has cornered the city, the state, corporations and individuals into tightening their purse strings, though Herndon did not say by how much their budget has been affected. She did say it has been significant enough that the orchestra has had to lay off staff and use fewer musicians in performances.

“For a big concert we’d go up to 55 players, and now maybe we’re doing 40,” Herndon said. “In the summertime, we’d usually have 40, 45 players, and now maybe we’re down to 20, 25.”

The recent chaos that reigned in the state Senate also did not help the orchestra’s financial planning, Herndon said. The Senate for much of June did not act on any bills because of a leadership crisis.

“We had money tied to the Senate that we didn’t know if we were going to get,” Herndon said. “We waited as long as we could to cancel [the concerts] because we didn’t know if the money was coming through. When weeks went by and nothing was being done, we had to cancel them. I still have not heard from the Senate if we’re getting the money.”

Despite the financial woes, Herndon is optimistic about the orchestra’s future. Orchestra officials, including Herndon and music director Constantine Kitsopoulos, have devised a five-year plan to bring more diverse music to the borough, such as the Argentine tango and eastern European pieces.

“We’ve been here for 57 years, and we’ll be here for more than another 57,” Herndon added.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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