All roads lead to Vegas.
Including the one leading Donato Cabrera to the podium as the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s new music director.
Philharmonic officials welcomed Cabrera to Las Vegas at a Monday afternoon news conference, held at the Las Vegas Country Club, where the conductor earned his first standing ovation before saying a word.
But it’s hardly the first time Cabrera, 43, has been in Las Vegas; he spent part of his boyhood here, attending local schools (Adcock Elementary and St. Francis de Sales) before his family moved to Reno when he was 10 years old.
He’s come a long way since then.
Resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and music director of the symphony’s Youth Orchestra since 2009, Cabrera became music director of the Bay Area’s California Symphony and the New Hampshire Music Festival last year. He’s also music director of Wisconsin’s Green Bay Symphony, a post he’s held since 2011.
His first — and, so far, only — collaboration with the Las Vegas Philharmonic came in January, when he led the orchestra during a concert saluting Nevada’s sesquicentennial.
“As my wife and I were flying down today from San Francisco,” Cabrera said at the news conference, he pondered “what Las Vegas means to me,” which is far from “the typical” Vegas visitor. “For me, it’s a city of family, a real town,” a place to “visit and enjoy one’s life, like anywhere else.”
Cabrera’s official debut as the Philharmonic’s music director will be Sept. 27, when he’ll conduct the orchestra’s 2014-15 season opener, a concert featuring soprano Deborah Voigt, “one of America’s greatest operatic voices,” with whom he’s worked at the San Francisco Opera (where he was associate conductor from 2005 to 2008) and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
As for the Philharmonic, “they’re a wonderful group of musicians,” Cabrera said during a telephone interview before his appointment was announced, describing the orchestra members as “very inquisitive, very open, incredibly gifted and very collaborative.”
Cabrera was chosen from a field of 16 conductors who led the Philharmonic during a two-season search to replace David Itkin, the previous music director, who left in 2012 when orchestra officials bought out the last year of his contract after Itkin opted not to seek an extension.
The Philharmonic’s search committee (which included four orchestra members) considered “several” strong candidates, according to Philharmonic president Jeri Crawford. But Cabrera stood out, she said, not only for his background and experience but for his “strong programming ideas” aimed at “attracting new audiences.”
Cabrera still has relatives in Southern Nevada — including a grandmother who was his “support network” in pursuing “any musical endeavor,” whether it was buying him his first French horn or his first CD player.
Since his boyhood here, “Las Vegas has grown so much,” Cabrera noted — citing, among other things, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, where the Las Vegas Philharmonic is a resident company.
“I’m still, in a way, in shock” about The Smith Center, he admits. “It’s such a beautiful complex — and a testament to those who had the vision” to bring it from dream to reality.
And dreams play a definite role in a music director’s life, as Cabrera has learned from his collaboration with celebrated conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the San Francisco Symphony’s music director.
“It sounds almost glib to say he’s really taught me to be a music director,” Cabrera said. “The job requires so many skills,” beyond making music, from “all the administrative qualities and what is expected of you off the podium.”
But “most important” of those duties, Cabrera said, “is to always be a dreamer,” noting that Tilson Thomas “has always maintained this childlike fascination with possibilities, and what can happen if you dream. It’s a great thing to be around — and it’s a great thing to emulate.”
Another crucial duty involves being “in the community,” he added, and “not just as the person people think of” when Beethoven’s name comes up. “I’ll be at a jazz concert, or at the Las Vegas Academy working with young people, working with the choir.” In short, he added, “to be really visible in the community with the arts — not just music, but all the arts.”
For now, Cabrera and his wife, opera librettist Niloufar Talebi, will remain San Francisco residents, he said, but a move to Las Vegas remains “a possibility in the near future.”
Besides, Cabrera’s only “a very short flight away” from Las Vegas, he pointed out.
“That’s something I’m the most happy about,” Crawford commented, that “he’s in the same time zone.”
As Cabrera spends more time in his new position, he’ll “learn more” about today’s Las Vegas, he said.
But “all the groundwork is being laid” for “Las Vegas to completely transform itself into a real, grown-up city in a way,” rather than “just a destination,” Cabrera observed, with “a large enough population, and a diverse enough population, for Las Vegas to really become what it’s always meant to be.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at email@example.com or 702-383-0272.