VEGAS VIBE: SURPRISE! Culture Thrives in Vegas

By Marilyn LaRocque

Beyond the flashing neon, “culture” thrives in Las Vegas at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opened on March 10, 2012 with a black tie gala in the 2050-seat Reynolds Hall. Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, the SRO star-studded evening featured celebrity entertainers, from legendary Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Marylou Harris to classical violinist Joshua Bell, Broadway headliners, R&B icons, jazz greats, and rock stars.

Since then, Smith Center has showcased the prestigious Cleveland Orchestra, cabaret favorite Michael Feinstein, toe-tapping Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, Tony-winning “Wicked,” spectacular trumpeter Chris Botti—as well as a kaleidoscope of music, dance, and theater productions. October launches the inaugural season at the Smith Center’s for its two resident companies, Nevada Ballet Theatre, a cultural phenomenon for over 40 years, and the Las Vegas Philharmonic, celebrating its 14th season. (Photos courtesy of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.)

An SRO crowd awaits the first note of the opening gala concert.

Photo courtesy of Geri Kodey. The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas

Neil Patrick Harris was the gala’s MC.

Willie Nelson performs at the opening gala.

Nevada Ballet Theatre — Balanchine’s  “Jewels” — October 13-14

Nevada Ballet Theatre debuts with a gem of the ballet repertoire, Balanchine’s Jewels— “Emeralds, Rubies, and Diamonds”—accompanied by members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Co-founder and founding choreographer of the New York City Ballet, Balanchine created the work for the company (1967). Each section features music by different composers, in sequence, Gabriel Fauré, Igor Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.

Ballet West, Salt Lake City, gleams in “Emeralds”; Nevada Ballet Theatre shines in “Rubies”; Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle, dazzles in “Diamonds.” Primary sponsor is, appropriately, Van Cleef and Arpels, which originally inspired the ballet. Performances: Saturday, October 13, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 14, 1 p.m. Tickets: The Smith Center Box Office, 702.749.2000 or online at

Other sensational NBT presentations will feature Tchaikovsky’s holiday favorite, The Nutcracker (December 15-23); the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet (January 22-23, 2013) with Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Stravinsky/Nijinsky as centerpiece; and New York City Ballet (March 5-6) performing five diverse works each evening. The NBT company caps the season (May 11-12) with Artistic Director/Choreographer James Canfield’s ballet interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Photo by Virginia Trudeau | Nevada Ballet Theatre shines in “Rubies.”

Photo by Erik Ostling | B West: Ballerina Christiana Bennett performs in “Emeralds.”

Photo by Angela Sterling | Pacific Northwest Ballet sparkles in “Diamonds.”

Las Vegas Philharmonic — October 20

The Las Vegas Philharmonic began generating musical fireworks in 1998 when it resurrected an annual Fourth of July outdoor concert under the baton of founding Music Director and Conductor Laureate Harold L. Weller. The 2012-2013 Masterworks and Pops series spotlight guest conductors as the orchestra seeks a new music director.

The October 20 Opening Night Celebration introduces Andrew Grams, former Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, who conducts Beethoven’s “triple” Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano, featuring Navah Perlman, piano,
Philippe Quint, violin, and
 Zuill Bailey, cello. Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Mussorgsky/Ravel’s 
Pictures from an Exhibition provide resounding contrast.

Las Vegas Philharmonic musicians preview Reynolds Hall at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. | Photos courtesy of Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Themed “An American Portrait,” the November 17 concert finds Case Scaglione, Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, presenting American classics: Bernstein’s
Symphonic Dances from West Side Story; Ives’
Variations on America; Barber’s
Adagio for Strings; and three Copland works—Fanfare for the Common Man, Old American Songs, and his famous Lincoln Portrait, narrated by Zappo’s Founder Tony Hseih. Soprano Linda Lister and tenor Mark Thomsen are soloists.

“Rising Star” Violinist Elena Urioste performs the Sibelius Violin Concerto under the baton of Alastair Willis, Grammy-nominated conductor of the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. The January 12, 2013 concert also includes Ravel’s Bolero and Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, Jupiter.

The Las Vegas Philharmonic launches its first season at The Smith Center on October 20.

Rafters ring on April 6 when trumpeters Barbara Butler and Charles Geyer are joined by a brass ensemble in “A Touch of Brass.”  On the program are Gabrieli’s Canzon Septimi Toni a 8, Brahms’
Symphony No. 3, Barber’s 
Overture to School for Scandal, and Bizet/Hunsberger’s
Carmen Fantasia.  Daniel Meyer, Music Director of the Asheville Symphony and Erie Philharmonic, will conduct.
Holst’s The Planets headlines the final Masterworks concert on May 4.  A native of England, David Lockington, Music Director of the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and the Modesto Symphony, will wield the baton.  Also on the program are Alfvén’s Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil) and Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.

Opening concert soloists, from left, violinist Philippe Quint, pianist Navah Perlman, and cellist Zuill Bailey. | Photos courtesy of Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Pops concerts take off November 3 with “Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights” under Taras Krysa, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Henderson Symphony orchestras. “A Very Vegas Holiday” (December 8, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) boasts Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn G. Goodman and former mayor Oscar B. Goodman as narrators, vocalists, a jazz quartet, a drumline, and the Las Vegas Master Singers. Robert Bernhardt, Music Director Emeritus of the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra and Principal Pops Conductor of the Louisville Orchestra directs. Good times roll on February 16 with “Mardi Gras in Las Vegas,” propelled by Steven Jarvi, Music Director of Winter Opera St. Louis and former Associate Conductor with the Kansas City Symphony.

LVPhil concerts begin at 8 p.m., with a 7:15 p.m. “Pre-concert conversation” with the maestro. For tickets:, 702.258.5438; or, 702.749.2000.

Food, wine, and travel writer/editor Marilyn LaRocque has visited the seven continents, experiencing not only sights and sounds but also foods and wines. In Paris in May, she was named Vice Chargée de Presse Nationale, Des Etats Unis, of Les Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, the world’s oldest and largest food and wine society. She was Senior Food & Wine Editor for LUXURY Las Vegas magazine for nearly 10 years and immersed herself in the cuisine scene in this over-the-top city. She knows and has written about celebrity chefs, their restaurants, and food and reported dining trends not only in Las Vegas but throughout the world, from South Africa to Scandinavia, New Zealand to South America. She knows master sommeliers and mixologists and has written extensively about wines and spirits, particularly California, as well as Oregon, Virginia, and Kentucky (Bourbon) and Tennessee (Whiskey). She has dined at globally celebrated restaurants such as Taillevent (Paris), Noma (Copenhagen), Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (London), Per Se (New York), and French Laundry (Yountville). She has served as a judge in culinary competitions, been guest lecturer at Le Cordon Bleu, Las Vegas, and served as PR consultant for the 2012 UNLVino, Nevada’s oldest and largest wine event. Photo by Jim K. Dekker