By Tammy Scileppi
Back in 1953, the borough was culturally deprived when David Katz founded the Queens Symphony Orchestra, which he served as its first conductor.
Now in its 63rd season, the borough’s only professional orchestra and Queens’ oldest and largest professional arts organization has been presenting 35 to 40 concerts per year.
Patrons come from every age, income level and race to experience QSO’s enriching and educational programs free of charge. Local families and individuals can appreciate the universal value and necessity of orchestral music, thanks to QSO’s live performances, educational programs and free access to instruments and instruction.
In 1980, the Queens Symphony made its Carnegie Hall debut under Katz’s direction. The father of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz conducted his last concert with his beloved orchestra on April 26, 1987. That May, he died of cancer at age 62 at his home in Forest Hills.
But this coming Sunday, he will likely be present in spirit at a star-studded, sold-out concert and tribute performance honoring his lasting memory.
Classical music lovers can get their fix and will have the opportunity to hear their borough president sing, when she makes a special guest appearance.
Melinda Katz’s mother Jeanne, who served as QSO’s executive director until her death in 1969, created the Queens Council on the Arts in 1966 with the help of the Queens Symphony and the borough’s other leading organizations.
David Katz and his wife were movers and shakers on a mission: to bring the arts to Queens.
Their contributions transformed the borough into a cultural hub.
“My parents were such unwavering believers in the potential of this great borough we get to call home,” Melinda Katz said. “Perhaps it’s because they both lived and breathed the international language: music and the arts. They were both able to see that even with all of our borough’s trademark diversity, we still have that much more in common than we do different.”
Under the direction of guest Maestro Elli Jaffe, the music director of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, the tribute performance will include the world premiere by two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer Avrohom Leichtling.
Also on the bill are Mozart’s “Sinfonia concertante,” for violin and viola performed by Alexander Mishnaevski and Mark Peskanov.
Arias from Mozart, Rossini and Verdi, including selections from “Rigoletto,” will also be presented. These will be performed by former local celebrity cantor Avi Albrecht. Other performers include Cantor Yoni Rose and Bill Riley.
Made up of professional, union musicians, who also perform on Broadway with the New York City Ballet and other freelance orchestras, Queens Symphony is the second largest orchestra in New York City.
“My father firmly believed that one should not have to cross a bridge or a tunnel to access a world class orchestra, the finest concerts and classical education,” Melinda Katz said. “Thank you to the Queens Symphony Orchestra and board member Elsie Levy for spearheading the effort to honor my father’s dream and legacy.”
Former QSO Executive Director Andrew Frank helped organize the concert on behalf of Levy.
“The QSO preceded the New York Philharmonic, which is amazing,” he said. “It is really a symbol of how deep the Katz family’s commitment to culture in Queens is, which is rare and special.”
After a 1965 concert at Carnegie Hall, a reviewer for The New York Times praised Katz’s conducting for its ‘’warmth and naturalness.’’ And when he died, an obituary quoted then-Borough President Claire Shulman.
“David Katz contributed greatly to the cultural life and vitality of the borough,” Shulman. “We will miss him dearly.’’