Seven Questions For Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Donato Cabrera

The conductor on how he discovered his passion, juggling roles around the country and what he hopes to impart to audiences

Conductor Donato Cabrera | Photo by Erik Kabik/ Las Vegas Phil Harmonic

Conductor Donato Cabrera | Photo by Erik Kabik/ Las Vegas Philharmonic

How did you decide to become a conductor?

My grandparents were very supportive of my musical interests. One [grandmother] was a pianist and loved to play at family gatherings. She was the life of the party, and I wanted to be like her! What really started me out on a professional path, though, was my (Edward C. Reed High School in Sparks) band director. He was an inspiring and remarkable educator. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be a professional musician.

In high school, I had a friend who was similarly interested in music and we discovered it at the same time. When you’re in high school, you are always looking to belong, and being involved with music was what helped me belong to something.

I always thought high school students liked only rock music.

I think that music is music, no matter what the form. What classical music affords is the same as all other forms of music, and that is its ability to tap into emotions in a unique way. You can’t quite create that same response through painting or other art forms.

You’ll see that with children’s reactions when attending a concert. I conduct many educational concerts for the San Francisco Symphony and elsewhere. There is nothing like seeing 2,700 young people actively engaged with the music being performed for them by more than 60 musicians.

Adults experience similar reactions. It’s exciting to talk to someone who had never heard the Las Vegas Philharmonic before after they have experienced its power. It is overwhelming for someone to have the opportunity to hear music in that way. It is an honor to present it to them.

You conduct the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, and you are music director of the California Symphony and the New Hampshire Music Festival. How do you juggle all of those roles?

They are not all equal. The San Francisco Symphony is a major symphony orchestra that performs about 150 concerts throughout the year, as opposed to the Las Vegas Philharmonic, which [will perform 18 concerts this season]. In New Hampshire the season is five weeks out of the summer. So while it is still somewhat of a jigsaw puzzle, everything works out quite nicely!

Your opening concert in Las Vegas is Beethoven & Brahms, but you’re also including a work by a living composer, Dan Visconti. Why is there such a mix?

In any great museum, you also have exhibits of artwork from today. It must be the same way forward for an orchestra. You can’t just play Beethoven and Brahms and expect the art form to remain relevant.

Your family has roots in Las Vegas dating back to 1959, and you know the Strip is filled with entertainment choices. Why should people attend the Las Vegas Philharmonic?

We offer something that you can’t experience with any other concert in Las Vegas. What I’m trying to achieve with the Las Vegas Philharmonic is for it to become an integral part of the community and a cultural representative of what Las Vegas has to offer. It is already that to a certain degree, but I want to greatly expand its presence and importance to the community. That is my overreaching goal. When you come through the doors of The Smith Center, you have an experience you cannot find anyplace else.

And when the audience walks out the door after a concert, what do you hope they’ve learned, heard or experienced?

The most important thing is that they are feeling—that they felt the passion and engagement the artists are trying to get across to them. They will realize that all of the myths one might feel about these art forms are not true. Get a ticket and just come to a concert. That’s all I ask.

So you started all of this, in a way, thanks to your grandparents’ support. Did they ever see you conduct in concert?

Yes. They saw me conduct and they all had smiles on their faces from ear to ear. That was enough for me!

Las Vegas Philharmonic

Beethoven & Brahms, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12, $26-$96,

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