Donato Cabrera, conductor
"Tall and energetic, he's a passionate, heart-on-the-sleeve conductor, with eclectic musical tastes and a wealth of experience." - San Jose Mercury News
"Cabrera cuts a commanding figure on the podium but his conducting style is not overbearing. It’s apparent the players like him." - Las Vegas Review Journal
"With precise direction, conductor Donato Cabrera drew a taut, highly responsive performance eliciting rich, luminous tone from the ensemble." - Chicago Classical Review
Donato Cabrera is the Music Director of the California Symphony and the Las Vegas Philharmonic. He served as the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and the Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2009-2016. Cabrera is one of only a handful of conductors in history who has conducted performances with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and the San Francisco Ballet. Cabrera is dedicated to adventurous programming, living composers, and digital innovation. He is keenly focused on outreach and engagement, and programming that reflects the communities he is serving.
Since Cabrera's appointment as Music Director in 2013 of the California Symphony, the organization has redefined what it means to be an orchestra in the 21st Century. Under Cabrera’s baton, the California Symphony has reached new artistic heights by implementing innovative programming that emphasizes welcoming newcomers and loyalists alike, building on its reputation for championing music by living composers, and committing to programming music by women and people of color. Cabrera also oversees the selection process of the California Symphony’s celebrated Young American Composer-in-Residence program, through which the orchestra has supported the burgeoning careers of composers including Mason Bates, Kevin Puts, Katherine Balch, and the current Composer-in-Residence, Viet Cuong. In September 2020, California Symphony launched a landmark collaboration with USC Radio Group (KUSC in Los Angeles and KDFC in San Francisco) to broadcast a series of archival performances of programs featuring works by past Composers-in-Residence.
Cabrera has greatly changed the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s concert experience by expanding the scope and breadth of its orchestral concerts, hosting engaging and lively pre-concert conversations with guest artists and composers, and by creating the Spotlight Concert series that features the musicians of the Las Vegas Philharmonic in intimate chamber music performances. With a commitment to programming works by living composers, Cabrera recently led one of the premiere performances of Philip Glass’ newest piano concerto, co-commissioned by the Las Vegas Philharmonic and composed for Simone Dinnerstein; began and ended the 2019-2020 season with works by Anna Clyne and Gabriela Lena Frank and has celebrated the incredible Las Vegas talent pool with the creation of the Very Vegas Showcase, performing songs and works written by local performers.
In 2020, Cabrera implemented many new digital initiatives, reflecting his vision of breaking down barriers between the audience and the performer and staying engaged with audiences during the Coronavirus pandemic. MusicWise - Conversations about Art and Culture with Donato Cabrera is a series presented on Facebook Live and YouTube Live featuring interviews with engaging artists and civic leaders who influence and shape the cultural landscape. The Music Plays On is a series on Cabrera’s blog, featuring commentary and analysis on his favorite performances and recordings along with YouTube clips.
Cabrera also launched an online chamber series with both the Las Vegas Philharmonic and California Symphony. The Las Vegas Philharmonic adapted its Spotlight Series to a digital livestream format, presented at The Space in Las Vegas. The Spotlight Series features members of the orchestra in their favorite pieces for small ensembles, and the stories behind the music and the inspiration they’ve provided. California Symphony produced Poetry in Motion, a series of three virtual concerts inspired by poetry. It was filmed in collaboration with Mercury Soul, a San Francisco Bay Area collective of musicians, dancers, visual artists, DJs and videographers, one of whose co-founders is Grammy-winning composer Mason Bates.
Cabrera is equally at home in the world of opera, frequently conducting productions in the United States and abroad. He was the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Opera from 2005-2008, working on over 18 productions and conducting multiple performances. Cabrera has also been an assistant conductor for productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival, Festival di Spoleto, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Music Academy of the West. Since 2008, he has frequently conducted productions ranging from Mozart to Puccini in Concepción, Chile. In 2021 he made his debut with Opera San José conducting Rimsky Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri in an innovative digital production to be streamed online.
Donato Cabrera is continuously championing contemporary music and living composers. He made his Carnegie Hall debut leading the world premiere of Mark Grey’s Ătash Sorushan with soprano, Jessica Rivera, and led members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood as part of the CSO’s MusicNOW series. He also led the San Francisco Symphony Chorus with organist Paul Jacobs in the world premiere of Mason Bates’ Mass Transmission, subsequently conducting it in Carnegie Hall. Cabrera co-founded the New York-based American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), which is dedicated to the outstanding performance of masterworks from the 20th and 21st centuries. He conducted ACME in the world premiere of the all-live version of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 for three string quartets and tape at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, and led performances of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's Drone Mass with ACME and Theatre of Voices at Duke Performances and the Big Ears Festival.
Deeply committed to diversity and education through the arts, Cabrera evaluates the scope, breadth, and content of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic’s music education programs. California Symphony’s Sound Minds program has achieved national attention for its El Sistema-inspired approach and has a proven track record in impacting the lives and improving the test scores of hundreds of K-6 children in San Pablo’s Downer Elementary School. Annually reaching over 20,000 Title I fourth graders of the Clark County School District, Cabrera has completely reshaped Las Vegas Philharmonic’s Youth Concert Series to be a curriculum-based concert experience, while also integrating a hands-on, complimentary experience with the Discovery Museum, Las Vegas.
Also an advocate of adult education, Cabrera helped create and shape the California Symphony’s program Fresh Look: The Symphony Exposed, a weekly lecture series at the Walnut Creek Library that helps to explain the music and composers in an approachable, yet in depth way. It moved online in July 2020 and attracted more than four times the number of households who attended the inaugural classes in person in 2018. During his tenure at the San Francisco Symphony Cabrera also helped create and conduct, Play Out Davies!, a project that welcomed amateur musicians of any level and of all ages, to be coached by a member of the San Francisco Symphony, and to play on the stage of Davies Symphony Hall with Cabrera conducting.
As Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Cabrera worked closely with its Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and frequently conducted the orchestra in a variety of concerts, including all of the education and family concerts, reaching over 70,000 children throughout the Bay Area every year. During his seven seasons as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Cabrera upheld the orchestra’s reputation for outstanding artistry at home and abroad. He took the group on two European tours, winning an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of American Music on Foreign Tours, and receiving critical acclaim for a live recording from the Berlin Philharmonie of Mahler's Symphony No. 1.
In recent seasons, Cabrera has made impressive debuts with the National Symphony’s KC Jukebox at the Kennedy Center, Louisville Orchestra, Hartford Symphony, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, Philharmonic Orchestra of the Staatstheater Cottbus, Orquesta Filarmónica de Boca del Río, Orquesta Sinfónica Concepción, Nevada Ballet Theatre, New West Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony, and the Reno Philharmonic. In 2016, he led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in performances with Grammy Award-winning singer Lila Downs.
Awards and fellowships include a Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellowship at the Salzburg Festival and conducting the Nashville Symphony in the League of American Orchestra’s prestigious Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. Donato Cabrera was recognized by the Consulate-General of Mexico in San Francisco as a Luminary of the Friends of Mexico Honorary Committee, for his contributions to promoting and developing the presence of the Mexican community in the Bay Area.
For more information, visit www.donatocabrera.com.
Photo by Lindsay Hale
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