The membership of the orchestra is made up of freelance musicians and varies from 28 to 72 depending on the repertory. Feeding into its concerts is a program also founded by De Leon de Vega that sends members to local elementary schools (last year she added a middle school). She estimates she's gone to 40 schools and reached more than 35,000 children.
"Lots of performing groups go to auditoriums, pack in the kids and leave," she said. "I don't like that. I believe in taking musicians into the classrooms. Then you go to the auditorium -- but only four classes at a time, because I still don't like that packed thing. Now they know the musicians and their stories."
After the auditorium programs, the students and their families are invited to attend her concerts for free.
Audiences are loyal, she said -- so much so that "it doesn't matter what I program. They're there. Last year, we did a program where even the musicians had never heard the music -- 'Russian Seasons' by Leonid Desyatnikov. A very obscure piece. The hall was packed."
And as for that comment that a woman conductor would never be welcome onstage, "Now that seems like a joke."