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Hundreds gather at St. John’s University for Queens Symphony Orchestra’s summer concert

Aug. 14, 2023 By Bill Parry

The sounds of Argentine and Italian classics echoed across the Hillcrest campus of St. John’s University as the Queens Symphony Orchestra performed at the school’s 23rd annual Great Lawn Summer Concert on the evening of Aug. 8.

Alumni joined with members of University administration and the public for what Queens Symphony Orchestra Music Director Martin Majkut called the “highlight of our summer season.” The two-hour performance featured the works of Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi and Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla with virtuoso Kinga Augustyn on violin.

Photo courtesy of SJU

The concert was presented jointly by the University’s Office of Community Relations and Office of Alumni Relations and was underwritten by grants from the University’s Italian Cultural Center.

With nearly two-thirds of Argentina claiming Italian ancestry, the Italian-Argentine concert theme seemed like a natural pairing, the maestro explained.

“The largest ethnic demographic in Argentina are those of Italian descent, and there is a strong Italian component to this University,” Majkut said. “It is all nice connective tissue.”

Photo courtesy of SJU

Among those in the audience was Arthur Grabiner, 97, a World War II Navy veteran who saw combat during the Battle of Okinawa. The Flushing resident was with his son Doug and he is a regular presence at St. John’s performances.

The Queens Symphony Orchestra and the St. John’s community paid tribute to the WWII veteran at the start of the performance.

“St. John’s always takes care of us wonderfully,” Grabiner said. “I love the event and the atmosphere and what St. John’s does for veterans.”

The orchestra, including Ms. Augustyn, began with Mr. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. After intermission, they performed Mr. Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires before concluding with Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien.

The evening included a barbecue dinner for members of the Loughlin and McCallen societies, who support the University’s mission through donations and planned giving. McAllen Society member Dorothea Page said the evening presented an opportunity to connect again with the spirit of the University.

Photo courtesy of SJU

“As a student, St. John’s won my heart,” she said. “Coming back to campus as an alumna, I get right back into the swing of things. It is a lovely night with beautiful music; you cannot ask for anything else.”

The summer concert has been held annually at St. John’s since 1998, except for 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. McCallen Society member James Spero said it was good to be back on campus.

“St. John’s helped me get my start,” he said. “This is an opportunity to reconnect with the University, to visit and see how it has changed. I met so many wonderful people here.”

Organizers already look forward to the 2024 summer concert.

“The summer concerts on the Great Lawn always provide an avenue for relaxation, beautiful music, singing, and an atmosphere of classical enjoyment right here in Queens,” said Joseph Sciame, the University’s Vice President for Community Relations. “We are happy to host such events for the good of the community at large.”

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