Queens, a destination regarded for its immense cultural diversity, has acquired yet another artistic “score.”
The Queens Symphony Orchestra (QSO) kicked off its first annual Music and Arts Festival on Saturday, April 14. Seventy two area arts groups specializing in dance, theatre, visual arts, comedy and music have come together for over 50 events, celebrating the borough’s role as a forefront cultural mecca.
Over the course of two weeks, three free concerts will be held at various locations, including the Jamaica Performing Arts Center, Flushing Town Hall and Queens College, showcasing everything from a tabla soloist to Greek dancers.
“It’s not just about the Queens Symphony Orchestra,” said QSO Executive Director Lynda Herndon. “It’s about all the arts groups in Queens.”
The Festival sparked from a piece the symphony commissioned several years ago called “1001 Voices: a symphony for Queens.” This work, premiering for the first time during the festival, tells the story of immigrants moving into the borough. “1001 Voices” combines animation, various audio and visual elements, a spoken word segment performed by five actors in five different languages and a 190-voice choir from Queens College into a three-movement symphony.
In 2009, an exhibit and subsequent book by Judith Sloan and her husband Warren Lehrer called “Crossing the BLVD,” told the stories of foreigners relocating to Queens. Constantine Kitsopoulos, QSO’s music director, was enthused by the concept and decided to translate it into a musical presentation, asking renowned composer Frank London to construct the piece.
Beginning as a smaller concert series, the symphony grew into what Herndon now calls “a cultural offering for the whole borough.”
While a multi-venue, multi-day artistic event is new to the world of classical music, QSO officials hope the Music and Arts Festival will generate a metamorphosis, already seen by modern types of music at events such as Chicago’s Lollapalooza and Texas’s South by South West, adding that it is a way to transition the orchestral world into a festival model.
Much like other festivals, many local arts groups have signed on as partners, shining a spotlight on some previously unknown organizations.
“I think [the festival] is a wonderful opportunity for the borough of Queens to bring awareness to the arts and the different kinds of arts happening in Queens,” said Michelle
Durante, executive director, dancer and choreographer at Immersion Dance Company, a Maspeth-based modern dance group and participant in the QSO Music and Arts Festival.
Durante, who has performed with her company both nationally and internationally, admits that she was unaware of the existence of many of the festival’s participating groups.
“[The festival] is a great chance for everyone to get together and collaborate,” said Durante. “You want to make yourself aware of all the art going on – it’s all about bringing awareness to different audiences. It’s astonishing to see how many organizations are out there.”
As well as representing Queens’s artistic community, Durante said she decided to participate in the festival for anticipated exposure for Immersion Dance Company. She wants people to know a trek to Manhattan is unnecessary to experience incredible art.
Herndon says her ultimate goal is to leave behind a legacy, making this festival a must-see cultural attraction for years to come.
Preparations have already begun for next year’s festival, which will have the theme of “Queens Composers, Past and Present,” according to Herndon. Every year, they hope to grow and earn more participating arts groups, garnering greater support and a larger audience of art enthusiasts.