Hispanic Heritage: Exploring Las Vegas Philharmonic’s music conductor, Donato Cabrera’s, cultural background

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — At the helm of both the California Symphony and the Las Vegas Philharmonic is a familiar face: Music Director and Conductor Donato Cabrera. He’s the force behind every artistic decision. 8 News NOW Reporter Hector Mejia takes us on a journey exploring the conductor’s cultural background.

Most people think a music conductor only waves a baton in the air, sweeping the room with their arm, but Maestro Donato Cabrera — a prominent figure in the industry — shows that it is so much more by peeling 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 usually plays at the Smith Center, but the orchestra was silenced by the realities of the pandemic.

[I] “typically perform music from centuries ago, and we’re more like a museum than a start up,” Cabrera said. “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? What’s going on now is a lot more intimate, so from my point of view, I have committed to writing daily.”

Cabrera started leading the Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra in 2014.

“This is what inspired me to become a musician; it’s these personal histories,” he said.

Cabrera was raised in the Las Vegas valley until he was 10 years old and then he moved to Reno. He studied music at UNR.

“I have learned so much about my cultural heritage,” said Cabrera. “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 says the music is how he has 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, Cabrera programmed a concert for the Las Vegas audience called “Copland In Mexico.”

“Aaron Copland, who wrote Appalachian Spring and whose music is perceived as being an ultimate Americana; [he] actually was inspired to do that through his trips to Mexico in the 20s and 30s. 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.”

While in San Francisco, Cabrera 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.

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