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Las Vegas Philharmonic unveils ‘bold statement’ in comeback season

Donato Cabrera walks the Reynolds Hall stage for the first time in more than a year, reacquainting himself with his home away from home.

His voice echoes in ways it doesn’t when the musical director is backed by the entirety of the Las Vegas Philharmonic — and when each of the hall’s 2,050 seats is filled.

Both of those scenarios now have a return date, as the Philharmonic will open its Beethoven-influenced 2021-22 season Nov. 20.

“An orchestra is, first and foremost, a collection of wonderful individuals. Especially the Las Vegas Philharmonic,” Cabrera says. “They’ve all known each other for years. You sit next to the same person for 30 years, you get to know what they’re all about. We haven’t been able to do that at all for a year and a half. I know that when we have our first rehearsal on this stage, it’s going to be very emotional.”

Since they last performed together, March 7, 2020, Cabrera says those wonderful individuals have been trying to remain musically active. The conductor has kept tabs on them as best as he can, joking that, thanks to Facebook, he’s gotten to know each of their pets. The musicians probably wonder if they still have what it takes, Cabrera admits. He knows he does.

They’d better, though, considering each performance of the challenging season, aside from the “Very Vegas Holiday” concerts, will pair one or more of Beethoven’s nine symphonies with a work from a living American composer. (Subscriptions go on sale Wednesday at lvphil.org and 702-462-2008. Single tickets will go on sale in September.)

“I thought, you know, it would be a real bold statement for the Las Vegas Philharmonic if we performed all nine symphonies this first year coming back,” Cabrera says. “To go on that journey of this man who came to (Vienna, Austria), the world’s capital of music in the late 18th century, and he made this statement that still resonates today — while going deaf.”

By the time his final one, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op.125, premiered in 1824, Beethoven couldn’t hear a note of it.

“This is an incredible journey that I think an orchestra the size of the Las Vegas Philharmonic has never taken before,” Cabrera notes, referring to it as “a monumental gesture to a monumental man.”

The emphasis on the famed composer helps make up for the two-day Beethoven Fest, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth, that would have opened the 2020-21 season. It’s also a bit of a fail-safe should he or any of the musicians turn out to be more rusty than they expected.

“With these symphonies,” Cabrera says, “it’s sort of like going back to an old recipe that we could do in our sleep, but we haven’t done it for five years.”

The contemporary composers, five of whom are female, will be represented by works including Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw’s “Entr’acte,” Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout” and the world premiere of a piece by Juan Pablo Contreras that celebrates Mexican American communities.

Pairing them with Beethoven is a way for Cabrera to remind audiences that orchestral music is still being written, every day in this country, by skilled composers.

“We need to celebrate that, because this art form is a living art form. It’s not just a museum,” he says. “Yes, Beethoven’s music is incredible, and it does change people’s lives. But there’s music being written today that does the same thing.”

For now, he’s counting the days until he can begin sharing those compositions with Las Vegas.

“Music not only has the ability to change the lives of the audience when they come to see a concert, it does that for us on stage — of course, probably even more so,” Cabrera says. “That’s what made us go into music in the first place. It’s this profound feeling of these organized vibrations that can just change your chemistry.”

Speaking of change, Cabrera realizes he’s not the person he was before the pandemic. He assumes that’s the case for the musicians and patrons as well. The time away, he says, has given him a new appreciation for his calling.

“For me, it’s been a realization that this incredible community that we live in is just thirsty for the arts. For all the arts. All sorts of music. Just that experience. I know that pent-up anticipation will be there.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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