Las Vegas Philharmonic President and CEO Jeri Crawford is bringing the Phil’s most ambitious season ever to underserved Las Vegans.
When Jeri Crawford moved to Las Vegas in 2003, her longtime love of the arts drew her to the city’s fledgling symphony, then just five years old. An early faithful supporter, she and husband Rick later joined the Smith Center’s founding board and helped build a permanent facility for the hometown orchestra. In 2008, Crawford became interim president of what locals affectionately call “the Phil,” and seven years later she’s still there (fittingly, the “interim” tag has been dropped). With an enthusiastic new conductor in Donato Cabrera, the orchestra will embark on its biggest season ever in September. And while engagement with music lovers in Vegas and beyond is growing by leaps and bounds, Crawford is focused on bringing classical music to a less expected audience: local kids who may have never been exposed to it before.
Tell us about your initial contact with the Phil. When I came here, I was just looking for a season ticket. [Laughs] My husband and I grew up together in San Diego, and he moved here in 1971. We had gone different directions. Thirty-some years later we connected. I said okay [to moving to Las Vegas], but I’d like season tickets to the symphony. He asked, “Do we even have one?”
I guess you found one. We sponsored a couple concerts, then I was invited to join the board in 2004. I ended up as interim president—it kind of evolved to where it is today. We were doing five concerts at [UNLV’s] Ham Hall, then we added a pops series, and all of a sudden the Smith Center idea came up, and my husband and I decided we wanted to be founders. We really wanted to make this happen for the community.
How did you find Donato Cabrera? It was a two-year search and we saw 17 candidates. It exposed us to some of the top conductors in the nation. Then all of a sudden Donato shows up. He wasn’t part of the initial group, but the board really liked him. He had history here and he understood the culture. It’s strange how things happen. We were always told by the consultant, “Don’t discount that somebody might just come along and you’ll just know it.” He’s been with us for a year and it’s been amazing.
Tell us about your outreach to local schoolkids. This year we focused on fourth grade. We have five days split up—two in the fall and three in the winter—for our Youth Concert Series, where Clark County School District students [many of them economically disadvantaged] enjoy a concert at the Smith Center. This year we’ll see 16,000 students. Over the next three years, we’ll keep adding to get a full 10 days. Then we’ll be able to add fifth graders and expand. Within three years we should see 32,000.
How has Donato Cabrera fit into the youth outreach? Donato has been to Las Vegas Academy to conduct and to UNLV and the Nevada School of the Arts to work with people and give master classes. But the first big goal is to stabilize these 10 days for the Youth Concert Series. The costs for those are $20,000 to $25,000 a day. We just received a major grant to help stabilize those five days, and we’re looking to build the next five. Once we get there, the other part is going out to the schools and doing master classes and working with the Las Vegas Youth Orchestras [a program of the Clark County School District]. I think whether it’s a collaborative concert with them or to have our musicians playing together with them, that kind of big vision thing, we can do it. Donato is taking us on that path, and he knows how to make that happen.
That’s not your only outreach program. I just have this passion for people who are stuck at home and can’t get out. So we’re taking an entire musical spotlight series, a small ensemble program, to two senior communities in town—Las Ventanas and Siena. We’re going to have three or four of those a year. It’ll be a 45-minute concert and Q&A at no charge to the community.
In some sense, you’re helping to redefine the culture of Las Vegas. I think it’s a big part of our role as a community organization. Culture is not the Smith Center; it’s what goes on inside it. It’s that big message, and I don’t think everybody knows that yet. But it’s a great time to let people know.
For tickets and information on how to support the Las Vegas Philharmonic’s youth and education programs, visit lvphil.com.