The Las Vegas Philharmonic is gearing up for another season of fantastic orchestral performances and smaller chamber-music concerts. It all kicks off September 10, when music director Donato Cabrera conducts the full symphony through some Mozart, some Mahler and a West Coast premiere by living composer Kevin Beavers.
Seven got principal oboist and UNLV professor Stephen Caplan, who also happens to be featured in the small-ensemble Spotlight series, on the horn to discuss this season’s program, making classical music accessible and what he’s doing with his third Nevada Arts Council grant.
The Philharmonic kicks off its season this weekend at The Smith Center. Which performance program are you looking forward to this time around?
[It’s] probably this one [that] I’m most excited about. The orchestra gets to play Mahler; it’s complicated and it uses a lot of musicians. And Mahler 4 is one of my personal favorites. It happens to have a really nice oboe part, so i’ve been looking forward to this one a lot.
I know Philharmonic director Donato Cabrera has made it a goal to offer the community performances of classical music that’s accessible to modern ears, along with the aim to regularly perform works by living composers. Has the goal been achieved—have Philharmonic audiences become more diverse?
So far, it’s working really well. That’s why this season he programmed more pieces like that than last season. He’s been very careful about the pieces he chooses. First of all, they’re not overly long, so if you don’t like them, they’re over pretty quickly. (laughs)
Also, I think he’s picking young composers who write more accessible pieces. I think they have the same philosophy that he has, that there’s no reason why something in the vein of classical music, or whatever you want to call it, shouldn’t still be accessible to a modern audience. So, so far, they’ve been really likable pieces.
You’re also involved in the Philharmonic’s small-ensemble Spotlight concert series, which returns for a second year this season. How are the musicians chosen for the series?
I think Cabrera has done most of the choosing. He’s asked us for pieces that we might like to do … and then he calls and says “Okay, I’m thinking of putting this program together. Will it work for you? What date will work for you? So, it’s mostly his decision, with just a little input from [the musicians].
As a veteran musician, do you prefer performing in chamber-music ensembles like those, or are you more into performing with a full orchestra?
I like both. They’re two different skill sets. I’ve done chamber music all my life. I get really excited by it, so it’s a lot of fun for me. But certainly, if it’s a big orchestral piece like Mahler 4, I’m not going to turn that down either. [laughs]
You recently received the Nevada Arts Council’s coveted Fellowship Project Grant, contending with some heavy-hitters in the state’s arts communities.
I was really honored to get the award. I compare it to The Hunger Games. For years [the Arts Council] had this performing artist fellowship, but they limit you to only winning it twice. So once you’ve won it twice there’s nothing the state’s arts council can offer you anymore. They realized that’s a problem, and last year they started this new thing that’s only for the people who have won [those fellowships] twice. But they only give one each year, so the caliber of people applying was really high. I was really honored to get it.
What will you do with the grant?
It is project-based, so you have to propose a specific project that you plan to do over the year. In my case, the projects are actually video recordings. And there are two sides, some are going to be instructional videos based on books I wrote for oboe players, and then the other half is going to be some performances of works that have been written specifically for me over the years.
I’m working with a videographer. My plan right now is to set up a new website that would have all the videos on it. The ones that are of performances would also be linked to the composer’s personal website … so if someone wants to purchase it, they have a way to get to the store.
You recently began another academic year as UNLV’s professor of oboe. What’s new and exciting in the School of Music?
We’re very excited right now because we are officially a school of music as of last year, [and the school has] a relatively new chair. As you know, there’s [also] a relatively new president of the university, there’s a new provost, and we just got a new dean of the College of Fine Arts, who happens to have a music background. All these things seem to be coming together, and the future looks really positive for the School of Music right now. We have some new faculty on board this year; we’ve already gotten the okay to begin the search for a couple new positions next year.
We went through this period of … stagnation. Not music particularly, but all of the campus, due to the various budget cuts … so the past year things have really started to turn around.
Cabrera Conducts Mahler, Sept. 10, $30-$109, 7:30 p.m., Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000, TheSmithCenter.com.