Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.
As a senior at UNLV, Christina Castellanos earned a chair in the Las Vegas Philharmonic.
Eighteen years later, she has been appointed principal flute for the orchestra.
Castellanos remembers first hearing the flute on the radio when she was 3 years old. She begged her mom for lessons.
“She waited until I was 11,” Castellanos says. “I think she wanted to make sure I really meant it.”
When Castellanos traveled from her native Utah to Las Vegas with her high school band to play for UNLV’s wind symphony, she performed a small solo and was subsequently offered a full-ride scholarship.
“I had planned to stay in Utah. That’s where I grew up, where my family was,” she says. “And I’d been offered scholarships there. But I decided to move away from home.” The move has opened several doors for her, she says, because Las Vegas’ expansive entertainment landscape has provided more opportunities than if she had stayed near home.
“Moving to Las Vegas opened a broader spectrum (of opportunities). Being in the Philharmonic, I’ve been able to play a lot as a soloist.”
That included playing with the orchestra for “Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular” for six years and with artists including Sting, Harry Connick Jr. and Andrea Bocelli.
The 39-year-old mother of two is also principal flute for the Salt Lake Symphony, Sinfonia Salt Lake and the Nevada POPS, and regularly plays with the Utah Symphony, the Utah Opera and the Boise Philharmonic.
While her family and her music keep her on the road between the three states, Castellanos says she loves what she does.
“It’s one of those things where you ask yourself, ‘If I had a million dollars, would I still work?’ And I would,” she says.
Review-Journal: Do you have a favorite piece of music to play?
Christina Castellanos: I have a lot of favorites. For solo flute, my mom loved “Syrinx” by Debussy. That’s my mom’s favorite. Whenever I told her I was playing a recital, she’d say play “Syrinx.” A favorite orchestral piece I love to play is another Debussy piece, “Afternoon of a Faun.” And this season of Philharmonic, the season finale we’re playing (is) Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4. That’s another one of my favorites. A lot of great flute moments.
How does the art scene in Las Vegas differ from those in other cities where you’ve lived?
In Las Vegas, we have a variety of entertainment. The Las Vegas Philharmonic provides a mixture of classical music that is so important because on the Strip the visual spectacle we have is definitely unique and has its own place. Those shows are amazing, but with the amount people who live in Las Vegas, I hope the Philharmonic one day will become a full-time orchestra. We have enough people living here to support a full-time orchestra.
Does it still feel like an art form or does it ever feel like work?
I love what I do, so it hardly ever feels like work. It does take a lot of sacrifice to be at the level that you need to be. You don’t get paid for time you practice. You just have to be prepared. There’s a lot of times I miss my kids’ things because I’m out of town or have a concert, and I have a lot of late nights practicing. I stay up late, that seems to be the best time of day as a mom. It’s worth it, is the point. It’s a lot of sacrifice but it’s worth it.
How do you introduce classical music to friends who aren’t familiar with it?
So many of my friends are musicians! We’re kind of our own breed I guess. I think it depends on their personality, too, and what they would like. My brother, for instance, loves the music of Ennio Morricone. He’s done a lot of music for different movies, especially Quentin Tarantino. My son loves Grieg because he composed “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” so he knows that because it’s in so many cartoons.
Getting to know: Christina Castellanos
Do you have pets?
We have a turtle that we inherited with the house. We named him Crush. And I think 14 koi fish in a pond in the backyard.
What is your favorite vacation spot?
My honeymoon was in Paris. That was an amazing, lifelong dream for me.
What do you do when you’re not playing the flute?
I love to run. It clears my mind.
New discovery in Las Vegas?
Recently, after the Philharmonic, we went to Oscar’s Steakhouse and that was amazing.
Plans for Thanksgiving?
I’ll be in Utah with my family. My mom is an amazing cook.