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Queens orchestra hits%A0high notes for season

It may have been a little strapped for cash, but the Queens Symphony Orchestra is preparing to kick off a fortissimo season of classical music in the borough.

The 57-year-old nonprofit group had to cancel two free concerts at Forest Park this summer because of uncertain funding, but its regular season begins in earnest with an Oct. 24 concert, “Strings Attached,” which will feature works by Bach and Mozart before moving on to a world premiere, “Variations on a Theme by Sondheim,” written by composer Michael Starobin.

The season will also feature an educational series, “Symphony 101,” at several branches of the Queens Library, where orchestra members will demonstrate their instruments and provide families a chance to learn about strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.

“It’s very important to get families interested, especially young children, interested in great music, because it’s not an elitist art form,” Maestro Constantine Kitsopoulos said. “We want to bring it to the average, everyday person.”

Lynda Herndon, the orchestra’s executive director, said she chose to cancel the two summer concerts because of reductions in government funding and the turnover of elected officials who had backed the orchestra in the past. She said the nonprofit has seen an uptick in individual and corporate donations in recent months to help offset that.

“I couldn’t go into deficit budgeting,” she said. “I said, ‘We’re going to have to take the hit now because we don’t know where things are going and hopefully bring them back next year.’”

But Herndon is confident the orchestra will see its 75th anniversary.

The orchestra wasn’t the only classical music organization in the borough to face tough financial times in this economy. The Brooklyn-Flushing Conservatory was forced to close permanently last year, leaving the orchestra as one of the few classical groups in Queens.

Among the changes this season is the debut of a gala concert to raise money for the group featuring international cuisine donated by local restaurants and performances by some singing stars. “Maestro’s Musicians” takes place May 8, 2010.

“He does a lot of Broadway productions,” Herndon said of Kitsopoulos, noting he was the music director for Baz Luhrman’s “La Boheme” and “A Catered Affair” starring Harvey Fierstein. “We’re hoping to tap into some of those Broadway stars.”

The orchestra will also be collaborating with Maspeth’s Musica Reginae, another Queens classical music group that focuses on smaller ensembles. The two organizations will perform a new piece composed for Musica Reginae by George Walker, the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer Prize.

“We were very lucky that he was excited to work with us,” said Caroline Chin, Musica Reginae’s artistic director.

George Frank, president of Musica Reginae, said the partnership was a step forward for his group, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary.

“I think it’s going to benefit both groups,” he said. “We need to grow our audience, show people that they can stay here and see a great performance.”

For more information, visit queenssymphony.org and musicareginae.org.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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