75°F
weather icon Clear

Looking back on 20 years of Las Vegas Philharmonic

Updated September 8, 2018 - 7:51 pm

As the Las Vegas Philharmonic kicks off its 20th season this week, a look back through the orchestra’s first two decades reveals that its history has been as interesting as any piece of music its members have performed.

Take the Philharmonic’s beginnings, set against a backdrop of the impending demise of the Nevada Symphony Orchestra and the forced cancellation of a Fourth of July concert over a labor dispute. Philharmonic co-founder Harold Weller — then a UNLV visiting professor whose resume included conducting “The Nutcracker” for Nevada Dance Theatre — recalls that he thought it absurd for a city such as Las Vegas to not have an Independence Day symphonic concert.

In just nine days, Weller and Richard McGee — who would become the Philharmonic’s founding conductor and associate conductor — recruited musicians to perform what the program called “a star-spangled Fourth of July spectacular” under the name The Las Vegas Philharmonic.

As the 2018-2019 season dawns, here are some memorable tidbits from two decades of beautiful music, based on information from the Philharmonic and news reports.

1998-1999

The first performance of the Las Vegas Philharmonic is on July 4, 1998, a hastily arranged holiday concert at Hills Park in Summerlin. Audience response is so good that Weller — then coming off a 15-year-run as musical director and general manager of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra — and local arts patrons and Lady Luck hotel owners Andrew and Susan Tompkins are inspired to make the Philharmonic permanent. On May 8, 1999, the Philharmonic plays its first official concert at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall.

1999-2000

The Philharmonic’s premiere season includes four performances at Artemus Ham Hall, as well as three “soirees,” intimate receptions and recitals held in private homes.

2000-2001

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (“Ode to Joy”) is performed at the second season finale with the UNLV Master Chorale. The Philharmonic and the chorale will again perform the piece on May 11, 2019.

2001-2002

On Sept. 21 and 22, 2001, the Philharmonic plays its first pops concert. “Pops at The Rio!” features several selections from movies, including themes from “Gone With the Wind” and “Batman.”

2002-2003

On Oct. 5, 2002, the orchestra performs “Javelin” by Las Vegas-based composer Michael Torke. Current music director and conductor Donato Cabrera has scheduled three more Torke works for the Philharmonic in recent years, reflecting its fondness for contemporary American and regional composers.

2003-2004

The Las Vegas Philharmonic Chorus, created to accompany the orchestra in Mozart’s “Requiem,” makes its debut.

2004-2005

As Las Vegas gears up to celebrate its 100th birthday, the Philharmonic books three original pieces by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer George Walker — who attended the final rehearsals and concert premiere of his work, “Hoopla (A Touch of Glee)” — the Philharmonic’s own McGee and the University of Texas at Austin’s Dan Welcher.

2005-2006

Las Vegas officially marks its 100th on May 15, 2005, and on July 4, 2005, the Philharmonic presents the world premiere of “Las Vegas Rhapsody” by McGee, the orchestra’s associate conductor and education director, and narrated by Mayor Oscar Goodman.

2006-2007

On July 1, 2007, David Itkin succeeds Weller as the Philharmonic’s conductor.

2007-2008

The Philharmonic receives a jolt of Hollywood star power when actor Stacy Keach narrates a performance of Arthur Honneger’s “King David” on May 10, 2008.

2008-2009

The Philharmonic moves beyond the primarily masterworks and classical programs it had been offering by unveiling a pops series.

2009-2010

Longtime Philharmonic concertmaster De Ann Letourneau (violin) and principal Andrew Smith (cello) perform Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello on Feb. 27, 2010. They’ll again perform the piece during an all-Brahms program on Feb. 9, 2019.

2010-2011

17-year old guest conductor/composer/classical music phenom Alexander Prior joins the orchestra for an evening of romantic music on Feb. 12, 2011. Today, Prior is chief conductor of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

2011-2012

On March 24, 2012, the Philharmonic performs its first concert at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. The program: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, which the orchestra also performed at its May 1999 premiere concert.

2012-2013

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh narrates “Lincoln Portrait” by Aaron Copland, and Mayor Carolyn Goodman and former Mayor Oscar Goodman narrate “The Night Before Christmas” at holiday concerts.

2013-2014

On Jan. 18, 2014, guest conductor Donato Cabrera conducts “Battle Born: Nevada Proud!” as his first audition to replace outgoing conductor Itkin. Cabrera — who spent a good chunk of his childhood in Las Vegas — is named the Philharmonic’s musical director/conductor starting with the 2014-2015 season.

2014-2015

In October 2014, the Philharmonic leaves the concert hall to perform Beatles tunes with members of Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” at the Life is Beautiful festival in downtown Las Vegas.

2015-2016

The Philharmonic unveils its Spotlight Concert series of chamber music performed in intimate settings.

2016-2017

EGOT-winning (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) performer Rita Moreno joins the Philharmonic for its annual holiday concerts, narrating Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

2017-2018

The Philharmonic presents “Copland in Mexico,” a collection of pieces by Aaron Copland and Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas.

2018-2019

The Las Vegas Philharmonic kicks off its 20th season on Saturday. The season’s performances will include the score of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” to video accompaniment, a 100th birthday tribute to Leonard Bernstein and evenings devoted to Brahms and movie composer John Williams (who has guest-conducted the Philharmonic a time or two).

The 20th anniversary season will include both new pieces and a few selections from the orchestra’s first 20 years. The schedule:

■ Sept. 15: An opening night 100th birthday tribute to Leonard Bernstein (“Overture to Candide” and “Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’ ”), as well as Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Opus 18” with pianist Joyce Yang, and Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture — Fantasy.”

Oct. 6: The Philharmonic salutes Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Hermann’s score to “Psycho” when the thriller is presented with a live orchestra’s accompaniment.

■ Nov. 3: Philip Glass’ newest work, “Piano Concerto No. 3” (which was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras that includes the Las Vegas Philharmonic) with pianist Simone Dinnerstein, Mozart’s “Overture to Cosi fan tutte” and “Symphony No. 40 in G Minor,” and Bach’s “Concerto for Keyboard No. 7 in G Minor.”

Dec. 1: “A Classic Holiday,” a celebration of holiday classics with vocalists Kristen Hertzenberg and Travis Cloer that will end in the Philharmonic’s traditional audience singalong.

Jan. 12, 2019: “The Music of John Williams” will include selections from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Feb. 9: “An Evening with Brahms” will include “Academic Festival Overture, Opus 80,” “Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Opus 98” and “Concerto for Violin and Cello in A Minor, Opus 102” with violinist and Philharmonic concertmaster De Ann Letourneau and Philharmonic principal cellist Andrew Smith.

■ March 2: The members of the American trio Time for Three will perform with the Philharmonic.

April 6: “Music Unwound: Dvorak in America” will include Dvorak’s “Scherzo Capriccioso, Opus 66” and “Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Opus 95, ‘From the New World,’ ” as well as “The Hiawatha Melodrama.”

■ May 11: The Philharmonic’s 20th season finale, “Ode to Joy,” include Mendelssohn’s “Violin Concert in E Minor, Opus 64” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Opus 125, ‘Choral,’ ” with an appearance by the Las Vegas Master Singers.

For information or tickets, visit the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s website (lvphil.org) or call 702-258-5438.

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST