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Originally written for The Smith Center Blog, May 31, 2016

As I prepare to speak at the annual conference of the League of American Orchestras in Baltimore, I have been contemplating the topic for which I’ve been asked to speak — connecting underrepresented communities to orchestras through the humanities. It is of particular importance to the Las Vegas Philharmonic, especially if we want to be known as, “Your Symphony Orchestra,” that we begin reaching out to the communities that make up a very large portion of our community, but are rarely found in the concert hall. As with the common observation that the concert hall is filled with an audience of ever increasing age, I find myself frequently questioning whether we could do a better job at being more inclusive.

Music Unwound, a national consortium of orchestras, music festivals, and institutions of higher education has dynamically linked orchestras to African-American, Native-American, and Mexican-American communities and has been the recipient of over $1 million dollars by the National Endowment of the Humanities. Music Unwound’s thematic, multi-media programs (which are also available to orchestras outside the consortium) match orchestras with high schools, universities, and museums. The themes include immigration, race, and the never-ending quest for American identity. The Las Vegas Philharmonic will proudly join this consortium beginning in the 2017–18 season and will begin receiving a rather substantial grant from the NEH, the first performing arts organization in Nevada to do so. It is a great honor for the LVP to be a recipient of this grant and join this national consortium, but it is also a great responsibility.

During my tenure as the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, I have witnessed two events, the Día de Los Muertos and the Lunar New Year Concerts, become enormously successful. The very acknowledgement that both the Asian-American and Latino-American communities have a deserved place in the concert hall has been a notable achievement, but these concerts have grown to be far more impactful than just sold-out concerts! Both communities take an active role in producing the concerts because it’s not just a concert created for them, but by them. Within the span of a decade two very substantial communities now have a visceral and real connection to an orchestra and the music it performs.

During the 2017–18 season the Las Vegas Philharmonic will perform a concert titled, Copland in Mexico. Like so many creative artists in the thirties and forties — decades of Depression and world war — Copland became a populist, intent upon reaching the largest possible audience, and committed to social and political change. It was for this “new audience” that he composed such vibrant, tuneful scores as Rodeo, Billy the Kid, and Appalachian Spring. In Copland’s case, the search for a new audience was specifically inspired by a trip to Mexico in 1932. From this visit, El Salon Mexico, was conceived and will be performed on this program. We will use Copland’s discovery of Mexico as a starting point for discovering the master Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas and will perform his symphonic masterpiece, Sensemaya, as well as screen the seminal film, Redes, with the Las Vegas Philharmonic performing Revueltas’s beautiful score. There will also be ancillary events before and after the concert as well as seminars at UNLV and the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, both of which have a substantial Hispanic student population.

It is worth noting that Mexico has a much longer and storied connection to classical music than any other country in the Americas. The first opera composed by a Mexican-born composer was performed in Mexico City in 1711 and there were prominent classical music composers as far back as the 16th Century. A rich tradition worth celebrating, indeed!