The First Presbyterian Church of Newtown played host to award-winning harpist Tomina Parvanova on January 19. The $10 admission fee went toward the church’s restoration, and throughout 2014, the church will host a series of concert fundraisers to fund the work.
“The setting felt intimate and the harp resonated within the space,” said Dan Olson, president of Musica Reginae at The Church-in-the-Gardens. “Queens is blessed with churches that serve as public spaces for music and culture, where people of all religions are welcome. I am excited how this is the beginning of the church’s accommodation for concerts, not to mention that the church is only 10 feet away from the subway.”
Some local music lovers first met Parvanova at last year’s Support-An-Artist event in Forest Hills. Parvanova emigrated from Sofia, Bulgaria, at age 19, and now resides in Astoria. She received a degree in Harp Performance from the Boston Conservatory in 2009, and her master’s degree at Boston University in 2011.
Besides performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and teaching harp at the Long Island City Academy of Music, she recently began holding a principal harp position with the New York Repertory Orchestra, founded an after-school harp program at East Elmhurst’s PS 239, and played with the Grammy-nominated Albany Symphony Orchestra.
“I am grateful that through my music, all proceeds will benefit the church’s restoration,” said Parvanova. “It is a great honor for me to expose my music, and more importantly my instrument. The harp fit in perfectly with the church’s atmosphere, since people connect the harp with religion and spirituality.”
“What a wonderful classical harp concert in a beautiful and historic church,” said Marty Oppenheim. “I never knew a harp could make so many different sounds. Tomina is truly a virtuoso.”
Queens Boulevard has become dominated with generic buildings in recent decades, but at the intersection of 54th Avenue there is a rare glimpse of 19th century life.
The greatly intact High Victorian Gothic Revival edifice from 1895 also embodies the spirit of one of New York City’s earliest extant congregations, which dates to 1652.
Designed by Frank A. Collins, the church features a bell tower, garden, and ornate stained glass windows by Tiffany artists Sellers & Ashley. The church’s 2013 National Register status includes its 1907 Manse and the 1931 Church House.
In recent years, the church’s physical state has been impacted by the elements, as well as changes in religious lifestyles and demographics.
“Our historic buildings grow older, and costs to maintain them have grown,” said the church's historian Marjorie Melikian, and “we have fewer members than 30 years ago.”
Treasurer Jacinth Hanson estimated a restoration cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would address the slate roof repair and heating and cooling problems, as well as buckling stained glass windows in need of replacement and specialized cleaning.
“Hurricane Sandy caused more damage than we first realized,” she said.