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Twenty Sound Years

After two decades of making beautiful music, the Las Vegas Philharmonic aims for higher notes

When people criticize Las Vegas, two of the main gripes are our city’s tendency toward impermanence and our lack of capital-C culture. The 20th anniversary of the Las Vegas Philharmonic flies in the face of both of those.

“There were some years along the way where it looked like we maybe weren’t going to make it. But it worked out, and we’re bigger and better than ever now,” says principal oboist Steve Caplan, who’s been with the Philharmonic since its inaugural season. Bigger and better indeed: With expanded programming, sell-out concerts and a spectacular home in The Smith Center, the orchestra is on the rise. “This city is proving to be hungry for more art and culture, and that is exciting to see,” says Jeri Crawford, the philharmonic’s CEO.

The philharmonic has sought to expand its programming, including not just the standard repertoire, but a string of modern works and premieres, collaborations with Pink Martini and Rita Moreno, and events such as performing Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score with the film or Carmina Burana with choir and dancers. It’s part of music director Donato Cabrera’s vision for “this art form to remain vibrant and alive.” He says, “It’s like when you go to a museum, you know you’re going to see Sunday in the Park With George, but along the way you’ll see a traveling exhibit you’ve never heard of, or a painting by Seurat you never knew existed. That is the experience I wanted to create with the symphony orchestra.”

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Cabrera sees The Smith Center as offering unique possibilities in terms of presenting music. “We have this modern facility and all of this modern technology, but we’re performing in a format that’s 200 years old.” The trick, then, is to find a nexus between the music box (The Smith Center) and the music. I’m very much interested in experimenting,” he says, adding, “We have such an adventurous audience.”

Caplan agrees that Reynolds Hall is a special space for players and audiences. And, having witnessed the decades of effort that went into opening The Smith Center, he recalls a more personal moment. “Our first rehearsal in there, before it publicly opened — as oboe player, I play the tuning note for the orchestra, so I felt like I was tuning the Smith Center. That was one of the proudest moments of my career.”

But the Las Vegas Philharmonic is for all of Las Vegas, and it continues to reach beyond the concert hall. “Our outreach programs in the school district have long been a pillar of our mission to bring music, culture, and education to the community,” Crawford says. She adds, “We’ve been able to extend the benefits of music into senior living communities and to more of the residents of Las Vegas through our presence and involvement at community events.”

As Cabrera travels to other cities and countries to conduct, he says that some people are still surprised to discover that Las Vegas even has a symphony orchestra. “I love that experience because I can tell them the story,” he says, “but I’m ready to tell a different story.” In another 20 years, who knows what that tale will be?