The Las Vegas Philharmonic mixes it up for the start of its 20th season

Conductor Donato Cabrera and the Las Vegas Phiharmonic opens the season September 15 inside Reynolds Hall.
Photo: Las Vegas Philharmonic / Courtesy

The upcoming season opener for the Las Vegas Philharmonic marks not only the start of the organization’s 20th anniversary, but also the 100th birthday of the composer behind the iconic musical West Side Story.

Last played by the group in 2012—the year the Phil began performing at the Smith Center—Leonard Bernstein’s “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story” is anchoring this year’s opening concert on September 15. The concert mixes modern favorites with popular classics, a balance conductor Donato Cabrera hopes to strike season-long.

“That’s one of my main goals, to always have a mix of things that people know and love with something that might be a little bit more adventurous, so that the art form stays relevant,” Cabrera says.

The first concert is a perfect example, starting with one of Bernstein’s lesser-known pieces, “Overture to Candide.” Pianist Joyce Yang will join the philharmonic to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” which Yang performed earlier this year in Nashville. Cabrera says the piece also celebrates Bernstein, who was known for bringing new, young soloists to the stage.

Cabrera says he’s looking to bridge modern with classical again with Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy” and its modern adaptation by Bernstein, West Side Story. “It’s not only a celebration of his music, but it’s a celebration of his way of making music,” Cabrera says.

The group of about 75 musicians, some of whom have been with the Phil since its creation 20 years ago, will follow up the season opener with an October 6 screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, featuring a live accompaniment of Bernard Herrmann’s score. Cabrera says this particular score, made famous by the orchestral screeching in the shower murder scene, is one of the great examples of recognizable musical motifs in film.

“Hitchcock said that scene was made by the music, not necessarily his camera work or his direction,” Cabrera says. “To hear that music surrounding you with live music-making, it’s sort of like seeing it in 3D for the first time. We’re hoping this is the beginning of many films with orchestra.”

For the November 3 concert, the orchestra will perform a piece by the influential modern composer Philip Glass, “Piano Concerto No. 3.” The Glass piece was commissioned last year by a consortium of orchestras, including the Phil, for pianist Simone Dinnerstein, who will perform it in Las Vegas. The program will also include a pair of Mozart works and Bach’s “Concerto for Keyboard No. 7 in G Minor, BMV 1058.”

“There’s so much great new music out there that I’m discovering all the time that I want to share with people,” Cabrera says. “We have such adventurous audiences here. All I ask is people come in with an open mind. They may like it, they may not, but there’s going to be something in the concert they’re going to be excited about.”

CELEBRATING BERNSTEIN September 15, 7:30 p.m., $30-$109. Smith Center's Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.

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