By Marcia Morris
PLYMOUTH — With a little magic, the New Hampshire Music Festival (NHMF) could not have conjured up a Music Director more perfectly suited to its tradition, mission, and hopes for the future than newly appointed Donato Cabrera, who will make his regular Festival debut as Orchestra Conductor when the summer season opens on Thursday, July 11 at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University.
Cabrera was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming Festival season as he made the rounds here in central New Hampshire this past week, promoting the upcoming summer classical music season. He was warmly welcomed by donors, patrons and the media during a dizzying schedule of meetings, interviews and festive receptions.
The youthful, energetic Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) is also the Music Director of the SFS Youth Orchestra and has enjoyed an active and varied international orchestral and operatic conducting career which has taken him from his home base in San Francisco and Los Angeles to the Metropolitan (Doctor Atomic, 2008); from multiple appearances with the Orchestra de Concepcion Chile, to the Vienna Philharmonic (Herbert von karajan Conducting Fellow, Salzburg 2002) just to name a few.
Cabrera’s humble, lowkey style and easy-going manner will no doubt appeal to Festival musicians and patrons alike. His deep and abiding respect for his fellow musicians –Cabrera originally played the French Horn–is immediately evident in the decisions he has made about the program for his first season with the Festival. Acknowledging that there is a very special “family” feeling amongst musicians and patrons that is unique to the New Hampshire Music Festival, Cabrera has chosen to highlight the talent of some of the beloved veteran Festival Musicians in the summer program.
The Festival will celebrate the longevity of several of its members, including Joel and Karen Johnson who are celebrating their 50th summer season with the NH Music Fest. At the concert on August 8, Joel Johnson will be the honored feature conductor, and his daughter, the esteemed mezzo soprano Heather Johnson, who “grew up” at the Festival over the years, will be the featured soloist for a Berlioz piece the following week. Trumpet player Keith Johnson (no relation) will also be celebrating his 50th year with the NH Music Fest!
NHMF Concert Master Malcolm Stewart will be the featured soloist for the ever popular Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 during the inaugural concert of the season. The program that evening will also feature Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, one of the very first pieces that ever performed by the New Hampshire Music Festival when it began 61 years ago.
“I want to focus on the things that have made this Festival so special over the years,” explained Cabrera. “So when I put the program together, I opened up the old, dusty boxes that were stored in the Music Festival office. I wanted to see what was actually being performed when the festival first started in the 1950’s in order to celebrate the beginnings of the Festival. I found the Overture by Mendelssohn and the Coronation Anthem by Handel for example. Those are great pieces that have not been performed here for at least fifteen or twenty years. I want to celebrate that music.”
Cabrera’s respect and appreciation for the heritage of the New Hampshire Music Festival is matched only by his openness to new ideas for the future, including those that emanate organically from the festival musicians and patrons themselves.
“I find that if you go back in history to see what worked in the past, if you take the time to do that research, you come up with new ideas for the future,” said Cabrera. “I found that in the 1960’s and the 1970’s the Festival began to play some pieces that were very avant garde. That can be a hard sell at times, but I thought, if I can find new pieces that I know the audience and the musicians will love, then we can honor that as well.”
At the suggestion of New Hampshire Music Fest and SFS Orchestra cellist David Goldblatt, Cabrera decided to include a piece by San Francisco Symphony violinist and composer Mark Volkert. The piece, entitled Pandora, was commissioned by the SFS and was received with tremendous enthusiasm by concert-goers there. It will make it’s East Coast debut at the New Hampshire Music Fest on Aug. 1 at the Silver Center for the Arts. Volkert and his wife will fly to New Hampshire to be here for the exciting event.
“I know everyone will just love it,” said Cabrera.
His passion for sharing the love of classical music to “kids of all ages” is also abundantly clear as he speaks about extending the reach of the Festival Orchestra into the community throughout New Hampshire. To that end, the Festival this year is re-instituting Family Concerts, designed to appeal to the new generation of fans that will make the future bright for classical music. Youth Tickets for these special family oriented matinee concerts are just $2 and are scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday July 13 and Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Silver Center.
Cabrera credits his own love of music to his paternal grandmother, who, while not a professional musician, he remembers fondly as “always the life of the party” when he was a very young boy. He remembers sitting on her lap as she played the piano and covering her hands with this own as she entertained the family with the lively Mexican waltzes that were passed down to her from her father at the turn of the last century. His family roots in music run deep and he says he wants to share that love with everyone.
There is something special scheduled for each and every performance this summer.
The complete Orchestra, Chamber Music and Family Concert Schedule, as well as special performances in Wolfboro, Gilford and the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, can be found on the New Hampshire Music Festival website at www.nhmf.org. Tickets to concerts at the Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University can be bought online via the Silver Center website, or by calling the box office at 535-2787. Tickets for Concord can be bought online at the Capitol Center for the Arts website or by calling the box office at 225-1111. Tickets for the Gilford and Wolfeboro performances can be obtained by calling the New Hampshire Festival office at 279-3300.