Donato Cabrera’s Ten Seasons of Joyful Learning

The 2022/23 season celebrates a number of milestones, including Music Director Donato Cabrera’s tenth season with the California Symphony. He sat down with us to share his reflections on the journey so far.

Congrats on your tenth season with California Symphony!  We should have got you a cake or something but all we’ve prepared are these interview questions. Sorry!

A lot has happened since you started your first season with California Symphony back in September of 2013, both in the orchestra world and in the world.  Can you think of two or three moments that stand out to you on your journey so far?

Three musical moments will always remain with me. Symphony Surround, an event which allowed our patrons and donors to have a total immersion experience by sitting within our orchestra while we performed for them was helped to create an even deeper bond between our musicians and audience.

The Poetry in Motion project, which was created and produced during the Covid lockdown, gave me the opportunity to truly explore the possibilities of artistic expression in a multi-media format.

Finally, bringing to life a world premiere every year with our composers in residence is a process that I thoroughly enjoy and look forward to with anticipation every year.

Click here to watch as Donato conducts Next Week’s Trees by Young American Composer-in-Residence Viet Cuong. This video premiered as part of the virtual concert series POETRY IN MOTION in May 2021.

How do you think the ensemble and the organization have changed over the years?

The California Symphony on stage
Donato Cabrera at our 2021-22 Season Opener concert, EMPEROR.

There are close to twenty new musicians who have won auditions since I began as music director. As each and every musician on stage affects the sound and group dynamic of the ensemble, the musical personality of this group has changed considerably since I began. I have also fostered a positive and joyful approach to our rehearsal process. To be a professional musician means to constantly strive for perfection, and this impossible goal is best attempted in an environment that is encouraging and free of unnecessary judgement.

In 2017, we created a Commitment to Diversity statement, well before the #MeToo and BLM movements forced the hand of the arcane and outdated world of classical music. There is still much to do, but the fact that our board of directors and staff are now predominantly women is a beautiful thing, especially considering that there was only one woman who served on the board when I began.

Do you think your approach to programming has changed?

I would say that because of the many successes the California Symphony has had off the stage, with its commitment to diversity and innovative approach to marketing and development, this has given me the freedom to fully express my ideas of programming as narrative, exploring repertoire that most orchestras our size never perform. 

What can our donors and patrons look forward to in the next ten years?

A concert can be so much more than just a collection of three or four pieces, sometimes thoughtfully selected by a conductor. I’m enormously proud of what we do to share this incredible artform with our audience and it is my hope that we can continue to explore this music together, joyfully learning, revealing and feeling the messages that are contained within these incredible compositions.

DOUBLE YOUR IMPACT during the $100,000 Fall Matching Campaign with every gift matched dollar-for-dollar up to $100,000 through October 31!

When you give, you…

  • Make possible a new season of exciting live concerts and radio broadcasts featuring rising composers and stellar guest artists, and a world-class, professional orchestra that’s dedicated to making the symphony a more welcoming and inclusive place.
  • Promote better academic outcomes and lift up an underserved community through free music education for Sound Minds students.
  • Launch the careers of emerging young composers through the Young American Composer-in-Residence program.

Support Now


, , ,