Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet look forward to new audiences

The Smith Center has a long roster of impressive national acts scheduled to perform. Each will come into town, occupy the space for a few hours and then head to the next city on its tour schedule. Las Vegas will be a distant blur in a matter of days. But not for two local entities.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre are looking forward to a long, beautiful relationship — with The Smith Center, a new audience and each other.

Among the most obvious changes will be the sound of the performances. Audiences won’t believe their ears.

“It feels like getting a new instrument,” says Jeri Crawford, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, which has already held rehearsals on the center’s Reynolds Hall stage. “It will be a greater connection to the audience.”

The acoustics have been built to enhance the highest quality sound. As a result, the orchestra can perform at its maximum potential, and it can be heard with maximum appreciation. Not just the sound will change. The center is built to create the finest production possible, which means lighting, music configurations and projections will now be incorporated, Crawford says.

When word of The Smith Center got around, the Philharmonic’s booking department was inundated with calls. Musicians from such shows as “The Lion King” (now closed) and “Phantom — The Las Vegas Spectacular” (scheduled to close) expressed interest, as did booking agents for national solo musicians.

“We’ve always brought in guest artists, but the pool has just grown,” Crawford notes.

Moving to The Smith Center could mean a larger audience, but it also will mean more expenses. It is a risk they are willing to take, with potential options such as second Sunday matinee shows, but it all depends on funding.

Crawford wants to make one thing clear: A donation to The Smith Center does not trickle down to the Philharmonic.

“We are a resident company. We are basically a tenant,” she says. “We need the support of businesses up and down the Strip and around the valley.”

Unlike the big acts that will roll in and out of The Smith Center, the Philharmonic will stick around. Its slogan is, after all, “We play in Vegas, we stay in Vegas, and we are your Philharmonic.”

On March 24, the orchestra debuts with 100 musicians in The Smith Center playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. The concert falls during the 100th anniversary year of the composer’s death and will feature two choruses and soloists. Crawford calls it a “monumental” performance for a monumental event.

Looking ahead, the orchestra hopes to partner with the Las Vegas Youth Orchestra, with whom it currently has a mentorship program. The collaboration will have top-level students performing onstage with the Philharmonic.

The most exciting partnership, however, will enhance the audience’s experience watching another component of the arts: the Nevada Ballet Theatre.

Previously, the ballet company performed in the Judy Bayley Theatre before moving to Ham Hall, both at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. And for the past few years, it has presented its popular holiday “Nutcracker” performances in the theater at Paris Las Vegas. But none of these facilities will compare to its new home in Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center.

Finally, an orchestra pit will enable the Philharmonic to provide music for the ballet. New spring floors will improve the feel of the land for dancers and the sound of it for the audience. Like the Philharmonic, the dance company eagerly awaits the changes.

“Our production values will come up,” says Beth Barbre, executive director and CEO of Nevada Ballet Theatre. “It will be a full and more exciting experience.”

Its official Reynolds Hall debut is May 5 and will commemorate the troupe’s 40th anniversary. The most anticipated production from the ballet may be its revamped “Nutcracker,” which will have new sets, new choreography and new costumes, all designed for its new Smith Center stage.

Although the dance company will perform at The Smith Center, nothing else will change. Its eight studios will remain, and everything else will operate “exactly as normal,” according to Barbre.

One thing ballet officials hope doesn’t remain the same is its audience. Both the Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theatre hope The Smith Center will help them tap into a hard-to-reach demographic for the performing arts.

“Everyone in the performing arts is looking for that younger audience,” Barbre says. “We’re hoping to get that younger Zappos crowd now that we’re (performing) downtown.”

Contact feature writer Xazmin Garza at or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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