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June 10, 2021

In this issue: The Las Vegas Philharmonic Is Back in Bold Style | The Legislature's Green Report Card | Media Sommelier

YOU MIGHT CALL Las Vegas Philharmonic Music Director Donato Cabrera a member of the sourdough gang — that enviable group of superhumans who actually did something with all that stuck-at-home time during the pandemic. Cabrera didn’t master breadmaking per se, but he did cook up a flurry of fresh projects as the Las Vegas Philharmonic reckoned with a cancelled 2020-2021 season. Robbed of a stage, Cabrera improvised a digital one. Throughout 2020, he held wide-ranging weekly Facebook Live interviews with musicians, historians, chefs, artists, and composers. He helped launch a virtual VIP club for philharmonic fans, with exclusive perks and bonus content for paying subscribers. He hosted a live-streamed chamber concert mini-series at local venue The Space. And he cranked out 172 daily blog posts discussing his favorite composers and musical works.

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“When I made that commitment to blog every day, that was when I still thought the pandemic was only going to last a couple weeks,” he says, laughing. “I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this for a couple weeks.’ First thing in the morning, I was getting up and doing my blog post. But 172 days later, it would be 11:59 p.m. and I’d be like, ‘Ugh, I gotta do this damn blog post!’” However, if Cabrera is suffering from pando-productivity burnout, he doesn’t show it. At a recent lunch interview over tacos and agua de jamaica, he looks rested and relaxed in his guayabera shirt and hip-dad sneakers. “A lot of these projects were self-medication,” he explains. “I needed to stay engaged!”

The 2021-2022 Las Vegas Philharmonic season, which kicks off Nov. 20 at The Smith Center, will be anything but relaxed. The concert roster will simultaneously plunge deep into tradition and roam wide on classical music’s current landscape. The deep part: The Las Vegas Philharmonic will perform all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies, in belated celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth. The wide part: Cabrera has also incorporated into the season the work of six contemporary composers from diverse backgrounds.

“Playing a Beethoven symphony or concerto is nothing new for this orchestra, or any orchestra in the world,” he says of the Beethoven program. “But performing all of his symphonies in one season with an orchestra of this size? That is new. It’s saying something bold — taking that leap and journey into a singular composer’s music with that amount of depth and concentrated attention.” While the Beethoven works won’t be performed in chronological order, the bookends suggest a sonic seminar with a narrative arc: The season launches with Beethoven’s famously provocative Symphony No. 1 in C Major, and culminates in his grandiose blowout, Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Cabrera figures that audiences emerging from COVID hibernation are starved not just for entertainment, but edification.

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That impulse to engage also manifests in the season’s six contemporary pieces, which counterbalance the perhaps hegemonic heft of a whole lot of Beethoven. “Classical music has traditionally been incredibly conservative, especially in the United States,” Cabrera says. “And what I’m seeing happen right now, in this little corner of the world I live in, is that orchestras now are embracing this new repertoire — and it's not even a new repertoire. There’s music that’s been written over the last 200 years by Black composers, women composers. It’s been there all along, it’s just never been brought to the forefront. So the other pieces I've chosen to program are works by diverse, living, American composers, predominantly women, many of color.”

Scheduled for the Nov. 20 season premiere is Missy Mazzoli’s haunted, tempestuous These Worlds In Us, an orchestral work dedicated to her father, who served as a soldier in the Vietnam War. “She has a really unique, lyrical sound-world,” Cabrera says. “I’ve been dying to do one of her pieces for years.” Future concerts feature work by composers Caroline Shaw, Gabriela Lena Frank, Jessie Montgomery, Anna Clyne, and Juan Pablo Contreras.

Cabrera certainly seems ready for the rigors of the Las Vegas Philharmonic's ambitious 2021-2022 season — mentally and physically. Like many of us, he initially succumbed to the siren call of the couch amid those countless lockdown nights, but he rallied. No "quarantine 15" for him — in addition to all his other projects, the tireless conductor also managed to lose 25 pounds.

The 2021-2022 Las Vegas Philharmonic season kicks off Nov. 20 at The Smith Center. More information at

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THE 2021 NEVADA state legislative session was a win for environmentalists … with some caveats. The Nevada Conservation Network, a coalition of more than a dozen advocacy organizations, had  set its priorities earlier this year, focusing on five main areas. Here’s a look at how things turned out in each of those areas, plus a couple bonuses, with comments from environmentalists both inside and outside the network. 

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1. Mining tax 

Related bills:  AJR1AJR2SJR1 (all dead in committee);  AB495 (signed by Governor Steve Sisolak) 

The network’s plan was to continue a process begun in the last legislative session: Advance a series of constitutional amendments that would remove limits on mining taxes. It would then go to voters, who would likely approve it. But that’s not what happened. Here’s the Sierra Club’s take on what did: 

“Instead, late at night on the 118th day of the 120-day session, Assembly leaders introduced  AB495 , a fourth option for mining tax reform. Although AB495 took too long to be developed, came too late in the session, did not include tribes or progressive stakeholders in discussions that shaped this bill, and did not address the sweetheart deal baked into our constitution that mining companies enjoy, the bill will bring between $150 million and $300 million to the state's coffers and Nevada's struggling education system. We also appreciate that this bill taxes gross proceeds, does not sunset, and directs funds to educate Nevada’s children. These are significant steps in good directions.”

Echoing other network members, the Sierra Club adds that it sees the new law as a start to solving the mining tax problem, not an end.

Bonus:  AB148, the so-called Bad Actors in Mining bill, also passed and was signed into law. It prohibits companies that habitually fail to clean up their mining messes from getting future permits. 

2. Closing the classic car loophole

Related bill:  AB349 (signed by governor) 

Touted as an anti-pollution measure, this law makes it harder for people to use the state’s classic car designation to avoid mandatory smog checks on their old clunkers. Owners of true antique cars (somewhat whimsically defined as “Old Timers” in the legislation) can still get the designation if they prove they drive the vehicles fewer than 5,000 miles per year and only for club activities. People who use, for daily transportation, cars that are old enough to fit the criteria can qualify for financial help making repairs needed to bring the cars into compliance with emissions standards. 

Assemblyman Howard Watts, who championed the bill, said in a statement that the law will help the state meet climate goals by getting polluting vehicles off the road. “At the same time,” he adds, “it opens the door for targeted incentives to help historically underserved communities make needed repairs or upgrade to newer, cleaner transportation.”

3. Mandatory wildlife consultation for developers 

Related bill:  AB211 (signed by the governor)

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, this law will require developers to submit plans for subdivisions — other than those that qualify as urban infill — to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, in addition to the relevant city or county jurisdiction, which is already entitled to review the plans. The intent, Jauregui says, is to allow state wildlife managers to assess potential impacts on animals and their habitats. 

The Center for Biological Diversity’s Nevada State Director, Patrick Donnelly, says he finds the bill to be a weak half-measure that lacks teeth. “All AB211 does is requires consultation with NDOW,” he says. “NDOW can say ‘This project destroys wildlife habitat,’ and the authorizing agency can go ahead and authorize it anyway.” The law also exempts counties that have Habitat Conservation Plans, including Clark, which Donnelly sees as a major habitat destroyer.

4. Responsible energy planning

Related bill:  AB380 (died in committee)

Designed to get the state closer to meeting goals included in Sisolak’s  State Climate Strategy, this bill attempted to hasten the switch from natural gas to renewable energy. It would have made the planning and approval process for new natural gas infrastructure more exhaustive, required new homes to accommodate electric appliances, and made it easier for consumers to switch from gas to electric. 

But the natural gas industry marshalled its considerable resources to kill the bill. On the other hand, that industry didn’t get its opposing legislation —  AB296, which would have allowed it to modernize thousands of miles of pipeline — either. 

5. Energy efficiency

Related bills: SB382 (died in committee),  AB383 (signed by governor)  

Conservationists have long understood energy efficiency to be both the low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change (cutting down on the energy currently being used is cheaper and easier than switching systems from fossil fuels to renewables), and the red-headed stepchild of renewable development (building new power plants is profitable!). The latest plan to goose electric savings by funding efficiency programs fit the pattern, failing in the face of staunch opposition by state utility NV Energy. As a consolation prize, however, the conservation network did get its law requiring that non-energy efficient models of 13 major appliances be eliminated from retail sale in the state by mid-2023.


Renewable energySB448 (passed, governor’s signature expected)

Water conservationAB356 (signed by governor)

Although not specifically lobbied for by the conservation network, these two pieces of legislation were widely applauded by its members. The first, SB448, requires the state to put $100 million into electrifying the transportation infrastructure; requires NV Energy to spend 10 percent of its energy efficiency budget on low-income households and in underserved communities; expands rooftop solar benefits to multi-family housing; and makes several other changes.

Not everyone’s happy with everything about the bill, though. Kevin Emmerich of Basin and Range Watch noted, “A major goal of SB 448 is to open up remote sections of Nevada's outback to the Green Link Transmission Projects. These projects are intended to enable the development and hook up of tens of thousands of acres of large-scale energy projects that will impact Nevada's natural and cultural resources and create wildfire risks for remote regions of the state.” Emmerich would prefer to see more emphasis put on expanding distributed generation, and less on industrial-scale renewables.

Everyone (in the environmental community, at least) is happy with the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s surprise anti-grass legislation, AB356. That law, passed late the session, outlaws “nonfunctional turf,” otherwise known as decorative lawns, in properties other than single-family homes.

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1. Lately, I’ve been feeling whipsawed among the various possible understandings of “cancel culture.” Does it describe mobs of pitchfork-carrying snowflakes amassing on Twitter to take down the latest public figure who’s violated an unspoken code of propriety? The grossly exaggerated invocation of such a mob by ultra-conservative talk show hosts to whip up their viewers (and, by extension, certain voters)? A catch-all moniker that does little to elevate public discourse but much to harden tribes in their respective camps? This episode of On the Media helped me get my bearings. It provides not only the actual history of the term, but also diverging points of view on whether getting canceled is an actual thing that happens and has consequences, or just a trendy way to reduce a range of behaviors to their lowest common denominator. And it all culminates (or begins, as the episode goes) in the recent firing of an Associated Press news associate. 

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2. Continuing with the theme of news-media news, take a deep breath (or shot of whiskey), grab a stick to bite down on, and dive into Katherine Eban’s lengthy Vanity Fair feature, “ The Lab Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins.” This is a tough read for people in my line of work — not to mention those who rely on us to understand the world. As Jonathan Chait writes in his New York Magazine analysis of Eban’s feature, “The implications of this episode are much broader than understanding the source of the pandemic. It is a question about whether institutions like the media and government can withstand the pressure of ideological conformity.” The good news is, they can. In the end, as Chait notes, the scientists and anchors and reporters all (mostly) scraped the egg off their faces, fessed up, and went on with the business of getting to the bottom of things. Now about where the virus came from…

3. Last in this journalism-and-reporters edition of Media Sommelier … I finally got around to seeing the 2019 documentary Collective (in my defense, I only heard about it during the 2021 Oscars, for which it received Best International Feature and Best Documentary nods). If you liked Spotlight, but you’d have preferred to see the real sausage-making of journalism rather than the Hollywoodized version, then you’ll love Collective. The film’s makers had the wherewithal to follow actual reporters investigating the aftermath of a Bucharest nightclub fire in 2015. The fire left 27 young people dead. But then, dozens of others, hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, died in the weeks that followed. Staff at the Sports Gazette find out why. Spoiler alert! It’s the usual suspects: corporate greed and government corruption. Heidi Kyser

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Photos and art: Las Vegas Philharmonic courtesy Las Vegas Philharmonic; green illustration by Christopher Smith

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