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Queens Chronicle

Master of the French horn blows into Flushing

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 10:30 am

He’s played with the best of them, from Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland to Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti.

And now, Frank Donaruma is bringing his French horn to a concert at Flushing Town Hall, for one performance only, on Oct. 13 at 5 p.m. And, to top it all, it’s free, with no reservations necessary.

Surprisingly, Donaruma didn’t come from a musical family. His ancestors, he said, came here from Italy, working as church restorers.

So, he said, “There was art in the family, but not music.”

And when he began to develop an interest in music, it was the trumpet that he wanted to play. When he was told none was available in his school’s orchestra, he reluctantly accepted to play the French horn.

“I fell in love with it,” he recalled in a recent telephone interview, calling it “happenstance.” One could picture him shrugging his shoulders as he said the word.

It seems a pretty unremarkable beginning to a far-reaching career that has seen Donaruma perform everything from jazz and big band to opera and chamber music, with gigs on recordings, television, films and in no fewer than six Broadway pits — where he played for shows like the original production of “1776” and a revival of “My Fair Lady” starring the original Henry Higgins, Rex Harrison.

Playing on Broadway, he admitted, can be stressful, as well as repetitive, when long runs are involved. No one knows that better than his wife, Atsuko Sato, bassoonist at “The Phantom of the Opera” since it opened in 1988.

Born in upstate Utica, Donaruma, 78, began working in New York City in 1959.

“You start at the bottom of the pile,” he said — but eventually, he worked his way up to principal French horn player for the American Ballet Orchestra at Lincoln Center, from which he recently retired after 45 years, and for the Queens Symphony Orchestra.

He estimates that he’s also given 1,500 “demonstration concerts” in an effort to develop an appreciation of music in young people.

He described the upcoming concert as featuring a “very diverse program.” Among the pieces are Alec Wilder’s Sonata No. 1 for French Horn and Piano, which Donaruma described as the “minestrone of music,” combining multiple styles including classical and jazz, and Francis Poulenc’s Elegie 1957 for French Horn and Piano, which he called “haunting.”

French Horn Recital: Frank Donaruma
When: Sun., Oct. 13, 5 p.m.
Where: Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd.
Entry: Free. (718) 463-7700,

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