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State budget limits Queens symphony’s summer concerts

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The state’s budget woes and a generally dismal economy have cornered the Queens Symphony Orchestra into holding just one free concert this summer, which will take place at St. John’s University July 28, QSO Executive Director Lynda Herndon said.

Orchestra officials said while they are thrilled about the concert, which will feature Latin jazz and Vivaldi’s “Summer,” they are not pleased they can only afford to put on one free summer concert instead of the several performances they typically hold throughout the summer in the borough. The nearly 60-year-old organization is hurting financially because it will not receive a significant chunk of money owed to the orchestra from the state until a budget is finalized, Herndon said.

“Everything has been cut — money from corporations, state and city government and individuals,” Herndon said. “In terms of the state budget, we have contracts in and we’re supposed to be getting money for money we spent throughout the year. Yet, all of that money we’re told won’t come through until they pass a budget. We’ve had to tap into loan money in the interim because this money should’ve already been here, and we’ve spent it.”

She declined to provide a specific number on what the Glendale-based orchestra was owed.

Lawmakers were supposed to pass a budget by April 1, but lawmakers and the governor have been wrangling for months over how to address a gaping budget hole.

“If this money doesn’t come through, we start our year in a deficit,” Herndon said. “Last year we had to let go of a staff member because of budget cuts.”

Funds from the state and other sources are vital to a group like the QSO, Herndon said, because ticket sales do not cover much of what it costs to pay musicians and put on concerts.

The price tag for rehearsals and a single concert with a full orchestra of 65 players is about $50,000 to $75,000, and a good night of ticket sales will typically run from $5,000 to $10,000, Herndon said.

The partnership between the QSO and St. John’s in Jamaica Estates, which has been going on for 12 years, allowed the orchestra to hold the concert, which will feature about 23 members of the orchestra and La Familia Sextet, a Latin jazz group.

The concert will be held at 7 p.m. July 28 on St. John’s Great Lawn. La Familia Sextet is led by Willie Martinez, who said the group represents the best of New York-style Latin jazz.

“The baritone sax and trombone frontline is a unique treatment for this genre, and combined with the infectious rhythm section, smokes to the very last note,” Martinez said.

Constantine Kitsopoulos, QSO’s music director, said the 12th-annual concert at St. John’s should draw about 1,000 people and will be a good venue for families to see excellent entertainment at no cost.

“It’s exciting Latin music,” Kitsopoulos said. “It’s really hot and sultry, great for families on a summer evening. We’ll have impromptu salsa and merengue dancing.”

Despite the lull in summer concerts, Herndon said the QSO plans on hosting its full schedule of concerts next year, including two at Queensborough and a third that will likely be an opera. There will also be four youth concerts, two in the fall and two in the spring.

Herndon also emphasized the orchestra is “in the midst of an organizational revitalization” that aims to find new ways of operating and additional revenue sources that will keep the QSO financially viable.

Part of that revitalization includes building additional community support through new music, the executive director said.

“We’re in the most ethnically diverse county in the country, and we want to reflect that in our programming,” Herndon said. “We’re looking at ways to serve the community better.”

The orchestra will launch a new, three-movement symphony next year that will include “ethnic instruments, actors and dancers” to tell the stories of Queens immigrants.

For more information about the concert at St. John’s or about the Queens Symphony Orchestra, contact Kate Oberjat at 718-326-4455, Ext. 19, e-mail qso@queenssymphony.org or visit queenssymphony.org.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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