Donato Cabrera of the Las Vegas Philharmonic


In my Jour 102 class, we were assigned to do a profile of any personality we chose. Since everyone from Iron Maiden was busy, I chose this man. I got an A+ and a ticket to see their latest show at the Smith Center — an absolutely inspiring performance.

The only real difference between Classical and Metal to me, I believe, is one has the gift to fearlessly provoke emotional shadows and the other just provokes life, itself.

November 15, 2015 – unsolicited, academic work

Music is the cornerstone of life. In nature, it is in the wind; in civilization, it is in everything. For Maestro Donato Cabrera, the musical director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic, it is his everything.

Cabrera said, “We often say that you should separate your home from your work environment and work is work, don’t take it home with you. That’s the opposite message for me.”

Since he was child, inspired by his grandmother who had the gift to play by-ear at the piano, he knew his indisputable calling. Because music is pure energy in a tangible sense, he is at home everywhere, literally. “I can be in a country where I don’t speak the language and I don’t know one person. Yet, I can walk out on that stage and we can communicate through music in a way that is at once intimate and universal. I cannot imagine a greater gift.”

DonatoCabrera by Kristen Loken2After 15 years of schooling from University Nevada, Reno, University of Illinois, and the Manhattan School of Music, Cabrera enjoys a full plate today acting as resident conductor for the San Francisco Symphony, as well as music director for the LV Philharmonic, California Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. Ironically, there was a time when he believed he may have walked a dead-end path.

“I graduated from Manhattan School of Music and in 2002, I had that thing in Salzburg– which was such a great thing, such an honor to be a part of — I get back to New York City and I had a total of one gig lined up for my future as a conductor,” said Cabrera.“So, I got a job at the Met Gift Shop selling CD’s…I couldn’t believe that after 15 years of school, I’m doing the exact same thing I did in Reno 15 years earlier. I was barely making rent, I had one gig lined up and I was thinking, ‘That was it. What a mistake. I really blew it’.”

But, when an old friend from college saw him sulking in the corner of the Metropolitan gift shop, she handed him the key to his future by recruiting him to his first full-time gig as resident conductor in California. He said, “That was the beginning of everything after that.”

Since then, that key has opened many doors to many countries which has allowed him to reach out and stir imaginations all over the world. “I feel a greater sense of responsibility because conducting isn’t just when I step on the podium and start swinging my arms around and the musicians make wonderful sounds because of that.”

The press has praised his work as “outstanding” and “dynamic.” Jeri Crawford, the president of the LV Philharmonic, knew there was something about him almost immediately. “We were on a director search for two years,” Crawford said, “and we actually had 17 candidates and he was one of those. A few we invited back. When Donato came, we just had this feeling about him and the way he connected to the fabric of the community.”

conductor_donato_cabrera_by_erik_kabik_las_vegas_philharmonic_01_WEBCabrera explained, “You have the responsibility of creating the artistic vision not only for the institution, but also for the community, therefore propelling that community into the future through your passion and taste.” He said, “I choose the music, I choose the programs, when and what and where things are going to be performed and of course, all of those pieces have to be of high level. But, it’s the leadership that is required to be the pied piper for the art form and the music and that is what occupies my time, really.

In order for institutions like the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony, to move forward, they need to represent the community which it serves.”

For Jeri Crawford, the heart of any community is the orchestra, itself. For both Crawford and Cabrera, the orchestra is the vehicle to deliver the future and the future lies with the children.

The maestro explained that his work with kids is multi-faceted.To begin with, first and foremost, he said, “On the surface to understand what music is – a visceral, subconscious, undertaking. Both when performed and heard…and how the music is made, the science of music. That’s the surface.” Then second, “For me, the most important thing, that whenever they go to a concert for the rest of their lives, and it doesn’t matter what genre it is, at that moment for you to engage your imagination through sound, through music.”

Recently, the LV Philharmonic was awarded a grant to supply three Boys and Girls’ Clubs a sponsored after-school program, complete with 90 brand new violins and an instructor from their own orchestra.

San Francisco Youth Orchestra - 2014And these programs do make a difference. “I had the honor of seeing someone who was 13 and rise up to the ranks to become a very serious musician,” Cabrera said. “And by the time they were 18, they were going off to conservatory and having a life in music and that is an amazing transformation. It would be amazing to see anyone have that kind of dedication and passion about one thing…too many kids that do not have access to be passionate about just one thing.”

“It seems to me, in our culture, that ‘dabbling’ has become very prized. And I just am not a fan of that.”

It takes passion to foster passion and the man has plenty to go around. Crawford said, “He’s our main guy. He loves kids and that’s one of our most important outreach programs…they are our future.”

A successful performance is “about the experience of the connection onstage with the audience. The music is the vehicle.”With LV Philharmonic increasing their performances by 60 percent, including matinees and new programs such as the Spotlight Series, their ultimate goal to be the best regional orchestra in the United States is on its way, so long as there is continued support. Successful growth, much like a successful performance, is about connection. “That is a magical moment you can have for the rest of your life. That is the most important thing.”

Las Vegas Philharmonic


The Spirit of Ghost

Ghost live HOB 10312015
October 31, 2015

“At 10:02, the lights shift, smoke rises and the two shrouds covering the drums and the keyboards are ceremoniously lifted. The pre-recorded church choir takes over speakers, invoking spirits in Latin or backwards English. At 10:10 the stage is bathed in red, then pitch black. After a breath of silence, the Star Trek-y intro for “Spirit” begins to play and an explosion of thrill blows the roof off the House as the Nameless Ghouls take their places. When Papa Emeritus III graces the stage in open arms and flowing robes, the screams of love become so saturating, the band could not be heard at all until after the first chorus.”

Sometimes, I love it when I’m wrong.

Papa and Ghoul HOB 10312015When I first heard of these Ghost people, I laughed them off as a ridiculous act behind “patchwork prog” with Michael Stipe-ish vocals. In fact, the actual words I used in my Meliora audio review (Aug. 30, 2015) were: “…pretty much just a joke without a punch-line, a hipster salad, and a novelty…Except they’re not.” I felt almost embarrassed that I found myself practically obsessed with this album and referred to Ghost henceforth as “that damn band.”

“Meliora” review – Maximum Metal

But, when I had the chance to see this “damn band” on stage, I had to swallow my words like rancid medicine. The “Back to the Future” Tour was one of the most elegant, energetic, and dynamic concerts I had ever witnessed. Those parasitic songs just animated like fire when performed live. I didn’t feel Satan’s presence anywhere, but I was blown away by the expert sense of theater this troupe has. Far from ridiculous, I was converted.

I even kept my communion wafer to remind me never to judge a Metal band by its masks again.

Ghost – Official Website
Ghost — Official Facebook page