Donato Cabrera Leads the California Symphony into New Season

Music Director Donato Cabrera leads the California Symphony into its LARGER THAN LIFE themed 2017-18 Season, kicking off with LYRICAL DREAMS at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek Sunday, September 24 at 4pm. The program features music that uses dreams as subject matter or inspiration, including Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 4.  American soprano and former Adler Fellow of the San Francisco Opera Maria Valdes appears as soloist on the program.


Barber: An Idyllic Memory of Summer Life in America a Century Ago 

The season opener starts with Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 by celebrated American composer Samuel Barber (1910 – 1981), in which he sets the words of 1940s film critic James Agee to music in a beautiful, nostalgia-filled remembrance of the writer’s life as a child in small town Tennessee. Written in 1938 when the author was 28 years old, Agee describes spreading a quilt on the dewy evening grass of his parents' home in Knoxville, Tenn.  He is five years old, surrounded by family — father, mother, uncle and aunt — watching the stars, while listening to a horse and buggy going by; the jarring sounds of a streetcar; automobiles and people passing, and the low voices of adults in conversation. The idyllic memory is all the more poignant considering that the following year, 1916, Agee's father was killed in an auto accident.

Barber took extracts of Agee's free-form written piece to create his single movement Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in 1947, which he described as "lyric rhapsody." Like Agee, who wrote the words in an improvisational manner in about 90 minutes, Barber was so inspired by nostalgia that he wrote his piece quickly and without much revision.


Stookey: Giving in to Total Elation 

Over on the West Coast, 1915 was the year of the great Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, which some twenty years later would inspire Bay Area artist A.G. Rizzoli (1896 – 1981) to draw his fantastic vision of an imaginary world expo, which in turn became the inspiration for local composer Nathaniel Stookey's YTTE (Yield To Total Elation). Rizzoli was a draftsman at a San Francisco architecture firm for 47 years. His artistry went undiscovered until after his death, when a set of elaborate architectural renderings was discovered in a nephew's garage in 1990.  The YTTE (Yield to Total Elation) collection portrays Rizzoli's friends and family as intricately detailed buildings in a fantastic, grand "expeau."

For composer Nathaniel Stookey (b. 1970) the phrase Yield To Total Elation resonated with the way he experiences music.  He explains, "All my greatest musical experiences have this in common: a moment when the music we've been processing in our minds suddenly becomes something we feel collectively in our bodies.  It may not happen consistently, even with the same music, but, for me, yielding to the total elation is the ideal.  It's why I do what I do."

YTTE features the OOVE — whimsically named after its resemblance to a HOOVER upright vacuum cleaner. Played in the program by the composer himself, the OOVE is a one-of-a-kind instrument created by San Francisco-based Grammy-nominated audio engineer and kinetic sculptor Oilver DiCicco, that uses electromagnets to create sound. According to Music Director Donato Cabrera, "The instrument has that idea of yielding to total elation because it's all sound at once. It's not so much an instrument like you might think of today, like a violin or a French horn or a piano that creates discreet individual pitches. It creates this ambience from which sound can emerge, and that yielding to this total soundscape is what is so inspiring in this piece."

This is the West Coast premiere of the full orchestral arrangement of Nathaniel Stookey's YTTE (Yield To Total Elation).


Mahler (1860-1911): A Grand and Impressive Epic Masterpiece  

The final piece on the season opener program is Mahler's Symphony No. 4, a composer whose expansive orchestrations mean his works are rarely attempted in the Bay Area outside of the San Francisco Symphony. The California Symphony has not performed Mahler in almost two decades.

Written in 1899 and 1900, the symphony is grand and sweeping in the tradition of Mahler's other weighty works. Mahler's Fourth borrows its fourth movement text from a 19th Century compilation of German folk poetry called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (A Boy's Magic Horn). In it, a child imagines heaven in a rather child-like way as a place where there's lots of good food, fishing, dancing, singing, and cooking!


Soprano Maria Valdes features as Guest Artist 

Featured soloist on the LYRICAL DREAMS program is American soprano Maria Valdes, who makes her debut with the California Symphony, however, it's not the first time Ms. Valdes has worked with Music Director Donato Cabrera. She performed Mahler's Symphony No. 4 last September with the Las Vegas Philharmonic under Cabrera's direction.

A native of Atlanta, Ms. Valdes also debuts in the 2017-18 season for Opera San José, first as Despina in Cosi fan Tutte and later Lisette in La Rondine. She returns to the Bay Area after a stretch during the 2016-17 season at San Francisco Opera, covering the role of Glida. A distinguished alumna of the SongFest program in Los Angeles, she appeared in a solo recital of Nordic, Spanish and Latin American music. Other season highlights include performances with the Chattanooga Symphony and the Kaleidescope Chamber Orchestra, with whom she sang Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915.


Music Director Donato Cabrera Talks about the 2017-18 Season Opener 

Music Director Donato Cabrera, beginning his fifth year with the California Symphony, sums up his programming vision for the season opener:

“We begin our 31st season with three pieces that, for me, define what the California Symphony is all about. Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is a modern-day masterpiece by of one of the America’s greatest composers, Samuel Barber.  His innate lyricism and mastery of marrying text with music is at its zenith in this piece and we are fortunate to have exquisite beauty and artistry of Maria Valdes joining us for Knoxville as well as the Mahler.”

“The California Symphony has a history of not only promoting up and coming soloists and composers, but also performing and showcasing music that is practically endemic to the Bay Area.  Nathaniel Stookey’s YTTE is the Bay Area — free spirited, ingenious, lyrical, fanciful — personified through music.   Mahler’s Symphony No. 4, like the Barber, is a study in childhood memories and emotions and takes us on a journey into our collective past like no other.  It is also the first Mahler symphony that the California Symphony, with me as their Music Director, will be performing for our audience.”



Sunday, September, 24 at 4 pm
Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek

California Symphony Opening Night, 2017-18 Season: LYRICAL DREAMS

  • Donato Cabrera, conductor
  • California Symphony
  • Maria Valdes, soprano


  • Barber – Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24 
  • Stookey – YTTE (Yield To Total Elation) 
  • Mahler – Symphony No. 4.


Music Director Donato Cabrera gives a pre-concert talk, free to ticket holders, offering insights about the music, beginning one hour before the performance at 3 pm.


Attendees at the performance will additionally be able to see the OOVE and meet its designer Oliver DiCicco during intermission.


Tickets are $42 to $72 and $20 for students and are available by calling 925.943.SHOW and online at

Season ticket packages are also on sale for as little as $99, including the new Saturday night series.



The California Symphony, now in its fifth season under the leadership of Music Director Donato Cabrera, is a world-class, professional orchestra based in Walnut Creek, in the heart of the San Francisco East Bay since 1990. Our vibrant concert series is renowned for featuring classics alongside American repertoire and works by living composers. The Orchestra is comprised of musicians who have performed with the orchestras of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and others, and many of its musicians have been performing with the California Symphony for nearly all its existence.

Outside of the concert hall, the symphony actively supports music education for social change through its El Sistema-inspired Sound Minds program at Downer Elementary School in San Pablo, CA, which brings intensive music instruction and academic enrichment to Contra Costa County schoolchildren for free, in an area where 94% of students qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program. We also host the highly competitive Young American Composer-in-Residence program, which this year welcomes its first female composer, Katherine Balch.  California Symphony has launched the careers of some of today’s most-performed soloists and composers, including violinists Sarah Chang and Anne Akiko Meyers, cellist Alisa Weilerstein, and composers such as Mason Bates, Christopher Theofanidis, and Kevin Puts. The Orchestra performs at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.

For more information, please visit



Donato Cabrera is Music Director of the California Symphony and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and served as the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony and the Wattis Foundation Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra from 2009-2016 season.

Since Cabrera's appointment as Music Director of the California Symphony, the organization has been reinvigorated, with its expanded concerts, dramatically increased ticket sales, and innovative programming, the California Symphony and Cabrera are redefining what it means to be an orchestra in the 21st Century. Under Cabrera's leadership, The Las Vegas Philharmonic has also enjoyed a dramatic increase in ticket sales and an engagement with the community never before seen in Southern Nevada.

Over the last couple of seasons, Cabrera has made impressive debuts with the National Symphony's KC Jukebox at the Kennedy Center, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Louisville Orchestra, Hartford Symphony, New West Symphony, Sinfonica de Oaxaca, and the Orquestra Filarmonica de Boca del Rio. In 2016, he led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in performances with Grammy Award-winning singer Lila Downs. Cabrera co-founded the New York-based American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), and recently led performances of Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson's Drone Mass with ACME and Theatre of Voices at Duke Performances and the Big Ears Festival.

Awards and fellowships include a Herbert von Karajan Conducting Fellowship at the Salzburg Festival and conducting the Nashville Symphony in the League of American Orchestra's prestigious Bruno Walter National Conductor Preview. Donato Cabrera was recognized by the Consulate-General of Mexico in San Francisco as a Luminary of the Friends of Mexico Honorary Committee, for his contributions to promoting and developing the presence of the Mexican community in the Bay Area.



For more information, or for interview requests, please contact Theresa Madeira, Director of Marketing and Patron Loyalty at [email protected]org or (415) 577 5823.

High-resolution photos of the artists may be downloaded here.

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