weather icon Clear

‘No one has been here longer’: Las Vegas conductor ends tenure

Donato Cabrera talks of his decade with the Las Vegas Philharmonic over dinner at Bootlegger Bistro. The waiter slides in with a wedge salad and asks, “Shall we do pepper?”

“Until we sneeze,” Cabrera says, grinning.

It’s a characteristic response as Cabrera closes his seasons of spice with the Philharmonic. The zealous conductor’s final performance is Saturday night in a program showcasing Chausson’s “Viviane,” a new version of Michael Daugherty’s “Once Upon a Castle,” and Saint-Saëns’s monumental Symphony No. 3.

Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacob is the featured performer.

Cabrera took over the Philharmonic, which dates to 1998, in 2014, replacing David Itkin. Cabrera grew up in Las Vegas. His family has been in this city since 1959. He will continue to conduct the California Symphony in Walnut Creek and take on an active touring schedule. He fielded a few questions over salad and steak:

Johnny Kats: Why are you leaving the Philharmonic?

Donato Cabrera: It was a decision that was made by the by the board, that a 10-year tenure was what a music record should get.

J.K.: A long ride, no matter the reason.

D.C.: No one has been here longer.

J.K.: How does someone learn of this fate, that they are leaving the Philharmonic.

D.C.: In an email, with an attachment with the official letter.

J.K.: How did you feel when you read it?

D.C.: I wasn’t surprised. But at the same time, I thought, “You know, there’s a really good thing going on right now with with the audience, the journey that I’ve started.” And so at first I was like, “OK, why are we ending this relationship?” But it’s not a decision that is up to me. The board decides.

J.K.: A notification and not a consultation?

D.C.: That’s right.

J.K. What is your stamp on the orchestra?

D.C.: Making people feel welcome. There was a code, there were unknown rules. “Am I dressed right? Am I gonna clap here? No?” So for the first three seasons, I started doing encores. I told the audience there, “If you really liked what you’ve heard, tonight, we have another piece for you, at the end, I’m not gonna tell you what it is. So don’t get your keys out, and don’t get ready to go, if you want to hear that.” That broke the barrier.

J.K. I have had classical-music purist say they did not like the clapping during those breaks in the piece, they felt like they were between songs at a Journey concert or something.

D.C.: Now, if you come to the Philharmonic concert, you feel like you’re in it. You’e engaged, you clap whenever you feel comfortable. You feel like the Smith Center and the Philharmonic is yours a place to explore music.

J.K.: But doesn’t expanding the audience’s base risk sacrificing the integrity of the music?

D.C.: It’s not about the music, per se, but it is about the experience. If you hear someone clapping between a movement, rather than turning and shushing them, turn around and welcome them. Because this might be the first time they’ve ever been to a classical music concert. How wonderful is that?

J.K.: We’ve talked over the years about expanding the Philharmonic’s reach, and you hosted a show with The Composers Showcase at Reynolds Hall a few yeas ago. You have wanted to include a partnership with The Killers Whatever happened to that idea?

D.C.: The biggest wrench in the work was COVID. Until then I was really heading in that direction. We didn’t do anything for a year, and then it took a year, to get back, my contract was coming to an end, and it was like, ‘Oh, wow, we’ve run out of time.’ ”

J.K. It’s still a great idea, though, yes?

D.C. I would die to do it. But if I were to do something with The Killers, creating an orchestral version of their music, it that alone would require a year. We are talking about a form of music that doesn’t exist. We would have to create it, have the vision to make it an album. But I’ll tell you, it would be appealing.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on X, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.