St. John’s Summer Concert Hits a High Note on the Great Lawn

August 10, 2023

The sounds of Argentine and Italian classics filled the night on August 8 as St. John’s University and the Queens Symphony Orchestra (QSO) collaborated for the 23rd annual Great Lawn Summer Concert.

Dozens of alumni joined with members of University administration and the public for what QSO 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.              

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

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 ’85CBA said the evening presented an opportunity to connect again with the spirit of the University.

“As a student, St. John’s won my heart,” said Ms. Page, who lives in Wantagh, NY. “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.”     

“St. John’s helped me get my start,” added Loughlin and McCallen Society member James Spero ’69C, ’71G. “This is an opportunity to reconnect with the University, to visit and see how it has changed. I met so many wonderful people here.”

The summer concert traditionally has been an opportunity for St. John’s to open its doors to members of the Queens community. Several hundred spread a blanket or opened a lawn chair and enjoyed the best of the QSO as the sun set.

Among those was Arthur Grabiner, 97, a World War II veteran who saw combat during the Battle of Okinawa. Along with his son Doug, Mr. Grabiner, a Navy veteran from nearby Flushing, NY, is a regular presence at St. John’s performances.

The orchestra and the St. John’s community paid tribute to the elder Mr. Grabiner at the start of the performance. “St. John’s always takes care of us wonderfully,” Arthur Grabiner said. “I love the event and the atmosphere and what St. John’s does for veterans.”

The summer concert has been held annually at St. John’s since 1998 (except for 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Its return last year was greeted enthusiastically; a similar spirit was evident throughout the 2023 performance.

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’sCapriccio Italien.

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 ’71Ed, the University’s Vice President for Community Relations. “We are happy to host such events for the good of the community at large.”