At the Helm

Donato Cabrera talks over helm of NH Music Festival


NH WEEKEND Contributor
July 03. 2013 5:51AM
Donato Cabrera, inspired by famed conductor Leonard Bernstein, said his job is to guide other instrumentalists through a shared musical journey. He leads his first season with the New Hampshire Music Festival this summer, and hopes to expand the classical bounds of the annual program. 
Hearing classical music played live and listening to pre-recorded programs from home are two very different musical experiences, said conductor Donato Cabrera.

'People have an idea of what a classical concert is supposed to be like, but when they (attend an orchestral performance), they realize there is this unique thing about it that can only happen between musicians playing live with an audience,' he said.Cabrera, the resident conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, joins the New Hampshire Music Festival this season, and brings with him plans for broadening the scope and appeal of the Plymouth-based program.Cabrera, a self-described music 'omnivore' who listens to a broad range of genres, said a long-term goal is to offer concerts outside of the classical music field.

'I would love it to offer everything. I would love to have top jazz soloists, indie bands. I would love it to become the place people go for all music,' he said.The 2013 program includes an Orchestra Series, Chamber Music Series, 603 Series Outreach Concerts, two Pops Concerts and two Family Concerts. Opening the season in the Pops Series will be Festival Pops Conductor Matt Catingub with 'Journey Across America' on Sunday, July 6, at 8 p.m. at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University. Tickets range from $11 for ages 17 and under and college students with ID to $69 for premium seating.Getting inspired

Cabrera said it was his grandmother, a piano-playing 'life of the party,' who first sparked his interest in music as a young boy. Eventually, his parents bought him a piano, and soon after he learned to play the French horn as well.Growing up in Reno, Nev., Cabrera said he was fascinated with the idea of classical music orchestras - and the figures at the helm guiding the action. He became a huge fan of famed conductor Leonard Bernstein, long-time musical director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic and a star of the TV program 'Great Performances.' Cabrera's high-school band director, Felton Hickman, mentored his musical interest in classical, and by the time Cabrera was a senior, he'd conducted his first band and began teaching music to fifth and sixth graders.He pursued his interest in conducting in college, and after his French horn teacher and band leader allowed him to conduct a small piece performed by the student orchestra, he was hooked.

'I realized that conducting was about taking a group of people, musicians, from one point to the next to achieve a common coal. People have a misconception that conducting is a power trip, about being in charge. But it's not that at all. It's more about inspiring and guiding others. I felt I fit into those shoes very comfortably,' he said.In a telephone interview this week from San Francisco, Cabrera said it was his close connections with members of the NHMF orchestra, and the invitation of one of its musicians, cellist David Goldblatt, about two years ago that brought him to the Granite State to apply for the conducting job.Cabrera, 40, has a strong background in organizing and conducting concerts geared to youth and families. Working closely with San Fransisco Symphony's music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, Cabrera has conducted the annual Día de los Muertos Community Concert, as well as the Concerts for Kids, Adventures in Music, and Music for Families programs, which annually draw more than 60,000 young people and their families from throughout the Bay Area to Davies Symphony Hall.Changes coming

'One of the immediate changes for this summer is that we're reestablishing our family concerts,' Cabrera said of the NHMF's 2013 season.

These classical music concerts will be shorter and less expensive, in hopes of drawing in families. In addition, he said the concerts, priced at $2 per child, will be no longer than an hour and a half, and geared toward all ages, including parents.'It's a way to get the families involved. Most 30- or 40-somethings with children don't have much exposure to classical music anymore. My goal is to get them into the act. My goal is to interact with the parents as much as kids during the performance.'Cabrera also is music director of the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra, and was a co-founder of the New York based American Contemporary Music Ensemble. He served as rehearsal and cover conductor for the Metropolitan Opera production and DVD release of 'Doctor Atomic,' which won the 2012 Grammy Award for best opera recording.Also new will be the launch of the '603 Series' concerts. After almost 40 years in residence at Plymouth University, the festival, in its 61st year, will expand its orchestral and chamber concerts to include performances in Concord at the Capitol Center for the Arts, Gilford Community Church and Anderson Hall at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro.In the newest addition to its lineup, the festival will bring chamber and orchestral performance outreach across the region. Entitled the 603 Series, this endeavor will reach across the Granite state with concerts offered in Gilford and Concord, and will include a joint presentation with the Great Waters Music Festival in Wolfeboro.The Classical Music series includes concerts at 8 p.m. July 11, 18 and 25 and Aug. 1, 8 and 15, in the Hanaway Theatre at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University. The Chamber Music Series will be at 8 p.m. July 9, 16, 23 and 30 and Aug. 6 and 13 in Smith Recital Hall at the Silver Center.The Pops Concerts will take place at 8 p.m. July 6 and Aug. 10 in Hanaway Theatre at the Silver Center; Family Concerts will be offered at 2 p.m. July 13 and Aug. 3.

For details on the schedule, log onto To reach the Silver Center, call 535-2787 or log onto For information about the Gilford performances, call 279-3300. For details about shows at the Capitol Center shows, call 225-1111 or log onto


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