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Mexican-American conductor Donato Cabrera is the Artistic and Music Director of the California Symphony. He 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. Cabrera is one of only a handful of conductors in history who has conducted performances with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, and the San Francisco Ballet. He is dedicated to adventurous programming, a leading advocate for living composers and digital innovation, and is keenly focused on outreach, engagement, and programming that reflects the communities he is serving.


In recent seasons, Cabrera has made impressive debuts with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Filarmónica de Jalisco, Philharmonic Orchestra of the Staatstheater Cottbus, Orquesta Filarmónica de Boca del Río, Orquesta Sinfónica Concepción, Hartford Symphony, Greensboro Symphony, Nevada Ballet Theatre, New West Symphony, Kalamazoo Symphony, Monterey Symphony, and the Reno Philharmonic. 


Since Donato Cabrera's 2013 appointment as Music Director of the California Symphony, the organization has redefined what it means to be an orchestra in the 21st Century. In 2017, the California Symphony became the first orchestra in the country to make a public commitment to diversity. The statement underscores the orchestra’s commitment to creating an equitable, diverse, and inclusive artistic space and work environment both on and off stage. Furthermore, the California Symphony was one of the first orchestras to provide a bilingual Spanish and English website, allowing underrepresented segments of the Bay Area community to interact and engage with the orchestra. Under Cabrera’s baton, the California Symphony has reached new artistic heights by building on its reputation for innovative programming and championing music by living composers, while also committing to programming music by women and people of color.  Through California Symphony’s celebrated Young American Composer-in-Residence program, Cabrera has commissioned and premiered over a dozen compositions, including works by Viet Cuong, Katherine Balch, and the current Composer-in-Residence, Saad Haddad. The California Symphony's concerts are regularly broadcast on KUSC in Los Angeles, KDFC in San Francisco, and across the country via the WFMT Radio Network, through the orchestra's radio series.


Deeply committed to diversity and education through the arts, Cabrera evaluates the scope, breadth, and content of the California Symphony’s Sound Minds program, which has achieved national attention for its El Sistema-inspired approach and has a proven track record in impacting the lives and improving the test scores of hundreds of K-6 children in San Pablo’s Downer Elementary School.  Also an advocate for adult education, Cabrera helped create and shape the California Symphony’s program Fresh Look: The Symphony Exposed, a summer weekly lecture series that helps to explain the music and composers in an approachable, yet in-depth, way.

As Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, Cabrera worked closely with its then Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and frequently conducted the orchestra in a variety of concerts, including all of the education and family concerts, reaching over 70,000 children throughout the Bay Area every year. During his seven seasons as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra, Cabrera upheld the orchestra’s reputation for outstanding artistry at home and abroad. He took the group on two European tours, winning an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming of American Music on Foreign Tours, and receiving critical acclaim for a live recording from the Berlin Philharmonie of Mahler's Symphony No. 1.


In 2020, Cabrera implemented many new digital initiatives, reflecting his vision of breaking down barriers between the audience and the performer and staying engaged with audiences during the pandemic. MusicWise - Conversations about Art and Culture is a series featuring interviews with engaging artists and civic leaders who influence and shape the cultural landscape. The Music Plays On is a series on Cabrera’s blog, featuring commentary and analysis on his favorite performances and recordings along with YouTube clips. In collaboration with Mason Bates and Mercury Soul, Cabrera and the California Symphony produced Poetry in Motion, a series of three virtual concerts inspired by poetry.  


Cabrera is equally at home in the world of opera, frequently conducting productions in the United States and abroad. He was the Resident Conductor of the San Francisco Opera from 2005-2008, working on over 18 productions and conducting multiple performances. Cabrera has also been an assistant conductor for productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Ravinia Festival, Festival di Spoleto, the Aspen Music Festival, and the Music Academy of the West. Since 2008, he has frequently conducted productions ranging from Mozart to Puccini in Concepción, Chile. In 2021 he made his debut with Opera San José conducting Rimsky Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri in an innovative digital production. In spring 2023, Cabrera appeared with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music conducting a production of Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul.

Donato Cabrera is a leading advocate for living composers. He made his Carnegie Hall debut leading the world premiere of Mark Grey’s Ătash Sorushan with soprano Jessica Rivera, and led members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood as part of the CSO’s MusicNOW series. He also led the San Francisco Symphony Chorus with organist Paul Jacobs in the world premiere of Mason Bates’ Mass Transmission, subsequently conducting it in Carnegie Hall. Cabrera co-founded the New York-based American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME), which is dedicated to the outstanding performance of masterworks from the 20th and 21st centuries. He conducted ACME in the world premiere of the all-live version of Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11 for three string quartets and tape at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City, and led performances of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's Drone Mass with ACME and Theatre of Voices at Duke Performances and the Big Ears Festival. 


Donato Cabrera’s awards and fellowships include an ASCAP award for adventurous programming, 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. Cabrera was recognized by the Consulate-General of Mexico in San Francisco for his contributions to promoting and developing the presence of the Mexican community in the Bay Area.

Download long, medium, and short biography. Updated May 2024.

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