LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — At the helm of both the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic is a familiar face  — music director and conductor Donato Cabrera. 

He’s the force behind every artistic decision. 

Most people think a music conductor just waves a baton in the air, sweeping the room with their arm. Maestro Donato Cabrera — a prominent figure in the industry — peeled back the curtain to give 8 News Now an insiders’ look. 

“What I’m trying to do when I’m conducting is activating and encouraging everyone else on stage with me to share their incredible passion,” Cabrera said.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic plays at the Smith Center, but the orchestra was silenced by the realities of the pandemic.

“Typically perform music from centuries ago and we’re more like a museum than a start up. So there’s that challenge, the immediate challenge, and then going into the future what will it look like when we can start performing again?” Cabrera said. “What’s going on now is a lot more intimate, so from my point of view, I have committed to writing daily.”

Back in 2014 was when Cabrera began leading the orchestra in Las Vegas. 

He was raised in town until he was ten. Then later moved to Reno, and studied at UNR. 

“I have learned so much about my cultural heritage. I had no idea that for instance the very first opera ever composed in the United States was composed in 1703 in Mexico City by a Mexican-born composer,” Cabrera said. 

It’s through music how he’s been able to connect with his Mexican heritage. 

“The last decade or so, I’ve been so thankful to have been conducting in Mexico,” Cabrera said. “All of my family moved, that I know of, moved away from Mexico almost 100 years ago so my direct connection to Mexico has really only been in the last 10 years as a guest conductor.”

A few years ago, he programmed a concert called “Copland in Mexico” for the Las Vegas audience. 

“Aaron Copland who wrote Appalachian Spring and whose music is perceived as being an ultimate Americana. But actually he was inspired to do that through his trips to Mexico in the 20s and 30s,” Cabrera said. “We had a lady from Mexico City who had lived in Las Vegas for 16 years and she says ‘I’ve been a resident for 16 years and this is the first time any cultural organization in Las Vegas has celebrated Mexican culture.’”

In fact, while in San Francisco, he was recognized by the consulate-general of Mexico for promoting Mexican arts and culture. 

“We were just in the beginning years of performing the annual Dia de los Muertos concert. And what that did was really connect the San Francisco Symphony with all of the Hispanic cultural partners not just in San Francisco, but throughout the bay area,” Cabrera said.

He’s connecting with his own cultural heritage through music.