Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Music Director Chats About Show’s Return

Watch the Las Vegas Philharmonic's 'passionate, bold and lyrical' performance

After about an 18 month hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, the Las Vegas Philharmonic is set to return to the Smith Center’s stage in Reynolds Hall on Saturday, October 23 to kick off their 2021-2022 season. 

The Las Vegas Philharmonic’s first show back features the music of Copland, Dvořák, Joan Tower and Tchaikovsky. Along with great anticipation, they also return with their first three year Artist-in-Residence, cellist Joshua Roman.

This show’s inspiration centers around the concept of celebrating “humanity’s indomitable spirit to not only survive, but to thrive when faced with adversity,” which reflects the collective emotions that swept the nation in 2020 and continue to pulse through the world, as we learn to navigate this “new normal.” As local musicians reunite to perform again, there is a warm and welcoming energy that radiates from this long awaited homecoming. 

Donato Cabrera, Music Director and conductor of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, chats about the upcoming show, his song selection process and why he loves being part of the Vegas performing arts community.

Music Director, Donato Cabrera, conducting the LV Philharmonic

How does it feel to return to the stage after COVID put everything on pause?

It’s exciting. It’s all the emotions. Of course, we are happy to be able to perform again for the public. The last time we had a concert was March 2020 [and] it was completely sold out. Not having that energy from the stage to the audience and from the audience to the stage has been greatly missed. [I feel] all the emotions, but [the] most important ones [are] excitement and anticipation.

When you were selecting songs to “celebrate humanity’s indomitable spirit” for this show, what was your process like searching for music that conveys that message?

For this particular concert that is coming up this October, I did want to find pieces of music that were written with that theme in mind. For instance, “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” those two pieces from the title suggest they are written for the idea to celebrate humanity in one way or another.

Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 5” is the story of a hero dealing with faith, dealing with what life has to throw at you. So there is an underlying story in the music. You find out by reading his letters that was what he was dealing with in this symphony.

And of course, another piece on the program, Dvorak’s “Cello Concerto,” is the idea of a singular voice, which is the soloist playing against and with a larger group (orchestra).

So, the Dovrak, Tchaikovsky and all the pieces tell that story in a way that I thought was really appropriate for our comeback concert.

What do you love most about performing on The Smith Center’s stage?

Every stage has a different energy. But in the case of the Smith Center, you always feel connected to the audience and that’s not always the case with stages. With the Smith Center, when you’re on stage making music you always sense them. And because the lights aren’t too bright and the way it’s angled, you can see them which is cool. When they clap you can really hear it on stage and it’s really palpable.

Ya know, the interesting things with conductors is that we are really the only art form that performs live where we turn our back to the audience. So I am always looking over my shoulder to get a glimpse of how the audience is reacting.

What is something you love about being part of the Las Vegas performing arts community?

There’s a couple things that I love about it. I love the enthusiasm for the arts by other artists. There is a sense of being part of a family by the community. Our community is starving for more art. I don’t think we give them nearly enough compared to what they would like to have. I believe the Philharmonic could have a performance every weekend and we would have people come.

Part of it is that they are really open to anything I do and any type of music program. Whether it’s something [that was] written 200 years ago or 20 [years ago]. There is no preconceptions that often happen in other communities. I think that it’s a very special place to be an artist.

Las Vegas Philharmonic is such a young orchestra compared to other city’s symphonies.

It’s actually to our advantage that we (Las Vegas Philharmonic) are so young because we haven’t done everything. So we get to still do things for the first time, unlike San Francisco (where he previously worked), which has done it all and many times over. I think that’s why they are so enthusiastic because everything is new and it gives the audience a sense of exploration and excitement.

What are three words that best describe the energy of the upcoming show?

Passionate, bold and lyrical. Lyrical, in the sense that they make you feel like you are being sung a story.

What is something most people don’t know about the Las Vegas Philharmonic?

That we are here for everyone in the community. I think people make the assumption with ballet, opera and the symphony that it’s only meant for certain types of people. I grew up in Nevada. I’m not from a musical family and I found my artistic voice through something that to the rest of my family seemed very esoteric and strange. I’m not from a wealthy family and it changed my life. If people were to give these art forms a chance, it could change their lives, too. They just have to come.

How has it been working with LV Philharmonic’s first Artist-in-Residency, cellist Joshua Roman?

It’s just starting now. It was suppose to start last year, but our season was cancelled. I’ve personally known Joshua for a few years now because I’ve worked with him in the past with other orchestras. Joshua’s not only an amazing soloist, but one of the greatest proponents of connecting the communities to art. It just so happens he plays the cello at a world class level. He is about self-expression through the arts [and how it] can transform communities. He’s shown it time and time again [and] that is why I wanted him to be our first Artist-in-Residence. He’s just such a lightning rod for that.

LV Philharmonic’s Artist-in-Residence, Cellist Joshua Roman

We are going to have him working with different artists and community leaders and have him help us show how art can be so transformative. And I can’t wait for that to start happening.

What is your favorite song in this show and why?

Oh, that is going to be hard because I chose each piece because I love them [all] for different reasons. It’s sort of like asking which child is your favorite. If I had to choose one, I would probably pick Copeland’s “Fanfare For the Common Man” only because it’s one of the first pieces of classical music I discovered as a kid. So it’s very personal to me.

My uncle had these demonstration records [and] if you had a really fancy stereo with big speakers, they would have a demonstration record you could use to show off your awesome speakers. “Fanfare For the Common Man” was the first one on those demonstration records. I remember I was about 8 [years old] and he put this piece on and I was like ‘Oh, my!’ I’ll never forget that moment. It’s one of the things that changed my life and helped me go in the direction I’m in now.

Tickets to the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s “Copland, Dvorak, Tower and Tchaikovsky” performance on Saturday, October 23 at 7:30 p.m. start at $29. To purchase tickets, visit their website.

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