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Remembering Las Vegas Musical Legend Douglas Peterson

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Dr. Douglas Peterson

Las Vegas just lost someone who, decades before anyone else, envisioned this desert city as an oasis for the creation of music. 

Douglas Peterson died at the age of 94 in late May. But the foundation he set for music here lives on. 

In 1967, Peterson helped start the Music Department at what would eventually become UNLV.  

Peterson worked into his 90s and for 52 years served as conductor, music director and CEO of the Southern Nevada Musical Arts Society. In that time, he widespread notoriety and numerous awards. 

That’s more than a love of music. That’s devotion. 

Hal Weller was Peterson’s close friend. Weller is also the founder of the nonprofit: Foundation to Assist Young Musicians, and the former music director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic. 

"He has always been a person with vision, a person with commitment, but at the same time a very modest man. I never thought of Doug as trying to do any of his projects for the glory of himself,” Weller said.

Weller said Peterson was dedicated to the great masterpieces of classical music and passionate about bringing those masterpieces to the people of Las Vegas.

“He loved the city and loved the people he worked with,” he said.

Peterson taught for many years at UNLV. Weller said Peterson had a fine singing voice, although most people know him as a conductor, but his vocal students admired him because of his example of the finest music-making, Weller said. 

Weller and Peterson worked together on creating the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

“I think there was a thirst for that missing component in our city,” he said.

For the inaugural season, Weller said neither of them wanted to present a watered down version of classical music.

They decided on Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, a 90-minute piece that requires a large orchestra, Weller said.

“That’s how the philharmonic made its debut in 1999,” Weller said.

Weller said Peterson worked with and influenced so many musicians and music lovers around Southern Nevada that it is difficult to find one way to describe his legacy.

“I think Doug’s legacy has so many branches,” Weller said, "That it is difficult to point a finger to one attribute." 

Hal Weller, close friend of Peterson, founder of the Foundation to Assist Young Musicians, and the former music director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

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Mike has been a producer for State of Nevada since 2019. He produces — and occasionally hosts — segments covering entertainment, gaming & tourism, sports, health, Nevada’s marijuana industry, and other areas of Nevada life.