When Helenann Wright, president of the Quincy Symphony Orchestra, wore her “Quincy Symphony” T-shirt, too many people told her they didn’t know that the city had a symphony.
The orchestra had a recognition problem, Wright said. The auditorium was one-third filled for concerts. So when the orchestra found a new home a few years back in the beautiful auditorium of the new Quincy High School, its board decided to try something new: make concert admission free, and put a big bowl for donations at the ticket table.
If you take in less money per listener but increase your audience, Wright had heard from other arts groups, your income will remain steady and your base of supporters will grow.
Attendance has increased and revenues largely held their own under the free-admission policy, while the orchestra has continued to flourish artistically under music director Yoichi Udagawa, Wright said.
However, this weekend’s festive “Evening at the Pops” concert is a special fund-raiser, with a ticket price of $25 . “We know we’re going to get a good income out of it,” Wright said of the traditional end-of-season treat featuring lighter musical fare.
The program includes familiar works, including “Pops Hoedown’’ by Richard Hayman, songs from the musical “Oklahoma!” and classical favorites such as Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.’’ When the orchestra gets to the end of that piece — known to folks of a certain age as the theme to the Quaker Oats commercial — the score calls for cannons to go off.
“Yoichi has the bass drum go wild,” Wright said. “He has a wonderful sense of humor.”
“It’s musical fireworks,” Udagawa said of the overture, written to celebrate the Russian army’s victory over Napoleon, “but no cannon on stage” for his version.
Another piece with a historical theme is “Lincoln Portrait’’ by Aaron Copland. A musical accompaniment to a narration of quotations for the ages from Lincoln’s speeches, it was written in 1942 as a patriotic contribution to the World War II effort but has endured long after.
“It’s just beautiful,” Udagawa said. “It captures Lincoln.” The piece has a personal meaning for him as well. “When I was a kid, my father bought a cassette of Copland conducting the piece, Henry Fonda was the narrator, and my brother and I must have listened to that a million times.”
In Saturday’s performance, Quincy Mayor Thomas P. Koch will be the narrator.
Wagner’s overture to “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” is one of the German composer’s most frequently performed works. “It’s big, bombastic, and loud at the end,” Udagawa said. “Nobody falls asleep on it.”
A contrast in mood is Massenet’s “Meditation” from his opera “Thais.” The piece’s ravishing violin solo will be performed by Anna Fernandez-Buehrens, sitting in for the orchestra’s usual first violin, Anne Hooper of Quincy, a professional musician who’s unavailable that night.
While some other regional orchestras have gone the full professional route, the Quincy Symphony remains a community ensemble, Wright said, relying on musicians who play for love.
“The Quincy orchestra remains an orchestra for the players and for the city,” she said. The musicians are from local communities besides Quincy, including Braintree, Hingham, Holbrook, Milton, and Weymouth, as well as across Greater Boston.
“Since it’s a community orchestra,’’ Wright noted, “what keeps people coming on their own time and putting in all the practice?” Satisfaction for a job well done is part of the answer, she said, but another factor is Udagawa, who has been with the orchestra since the mid-1990s. He also directs two other orchestras, and serves frequently as guest conductor for others.
“He is very encouraging,” Wright said. “He never says anything negative at rehearsals. He says, ‘It’s getting better.’ He chooses music that is beautiful. Having him as a conductor is really a pleasure.”
Wright knows this from experience; she plays the clarinet — and her husband, Stephen, the bassoon — in the orchestra.
Udagawa credits the players. “There is an amazing amount of high-level amateur musicians in the Boston area,” he said. “I think it’s unique in the world. The area has many quality community orchestras.”
Having players who have been with the orchestra as long as he has, and in some cases longer, is also a factor, he said.
“I was really a kid when they hired me,’’ said the 49-year-old . “I’ve grown up with them. We have a lot of fun together.’’