Tour 101 by Vicki Powell
18 Mar 2008
Curtis On Tour

You’ve seen us all perform, probably listened to us a billion times by now, and perhaps gotten the chance to meet us in person. But have you had the chance to pick our minds and find out why we’re doing what we’re doing and how we got here in the first place? Well now is your chance to get to know the performers of Curtis On Tour a little bit better.

We’ll start with the man whose career you are probably most interested in: The one and only, Roberto Diaz, my teacher and the President of Curtis.

Vicki Powell:      To start off, Mr. Diaz, we’re most curious in your musical     development. How did you get into music in the first place?

Roberto Diaz:      Both my parents are both musicians first of all, so all of us    had to study music at home as education. I was seven or eight when I started playing the violin. I was a miserable, miserable violinist.

VP:      Tell me about your musical education.

RD:      I studied with my father, originally. Then in college I studied with Burton Fine at NEC, and then I studied with Joseph DePasquale at Curtis. Both My dad and DePasquale studied with Primrose.

VP:      When did your father study with Primrose?

RD:      In 1966 with a Fulbright Scholarship at Indiana and one summer at the Music Academy of the West.

VP:      Right now, we’re probably all wondering how you went from being a “miserable violinist” to being the famed violist that you are now as well as President of Curtis. When did you start getting truly active in music?

RD:      Around 1977 when I started playing the viola.

VP:      How long had you been playing violin before that?

RD:      It was about five years.

VP:      And how did your career path evolve with the viola?

RD:      First of all I studied at Curtis, and then started working in four orchestras, and then I taught at several universities and conservatories, and eventually it just led to Curtis.

VP:      Once you started playing viola, what made you serious about it?

RD:      I enjoyed it, and I started playing a little less soccer.

VP:      Was soccer a pretty big part of your life?

RD:      Well when I was young, that was what I wanted to do.

VP:      I’m guessing your love of soccer came from your roots. You were originally born in Chile, correct?

RD:      CHILEE! Robert from Chilee, remember?

***PLEASE NOTE: at a recent post-concert Q&A Roberto was referred to as “Robert” and when asked where he was originally from and properly pronouncing Chile, was met with blank stares. After a fantastic comic pause, he said, “Chileee!”

VP:      Hahaha. Yes, Robert. My apologies Robert. So when did you come over to the states from Chile?

RD:      September of 1973. My father was offered a job at the Atlanta Symphony. He was hired by Robert Shaw.

VP:      You were living in Atlanta when you finally developed interest in music. I’m guessing you were involved in the music scene there.

RD:      I was in the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra. That was my first orchestra experience ever. I was in it all my high school years.

VP:      And chamber music?

RD:      I played in a string quartet when I was in high school with three kids from the Youth Orchestra.

VP:      Once you started viola did you know you would be going into music?

RD:      Not really, but I got more musically active. I actually went back to a technical school between high school and New England Conservatory (NEC). I studied architecture in high school, and I received a degree in industrial design.

VP:      So what made you decide to go to NEC?

RD:      I was planning on going to music school anyway, as one of my options.

VP:      Once you got more involved with music what did you want to do with that?

RD:      I was just hoping to get a job someday. Getting an orchestra job was pretty much my main goal.

VP:      Being in music, you’ve had some pretty amazing experiences: Principal violist of the National Symphony under Mstislav Rostropovich, a member of the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa, a member of the Minnesota Orchestra under Sir Neville Marriner, and Principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Being a viola professor and the president of Curtis isn’t such a bad stint either. Is there any event in particular during your music career that you remember the most?

RD:      Nothing specific. Mainly just the association with some of the greatest musicians in the world – concerts with incredible conductors, or having the opportunity to collaborate with amazing musicians, or getting insight about music from unbelievable mentors.

VP:      What was your favorite musical experience with the Philadelphia Orchestra?

RD:      We did an arrangement of Death and Transfiguration with Swallisch at Carnegie Hall one time that was just… other-worldly. We did some great stuff with him.

VP:      Did you ever think that you would end up with such a great career?

RD:      No. I just went one foot in front of the other.

VP:      Was it ever your ambition to become such a powerful figure in this business?

RD:      No. You just get doors opened for you, and you step through them. The trick is to be able to know that an opportunity has presented itself to you. Think outside the box, and be willing to take a chance, try something that you haven’t necessarily studied or trained for, which is the whole point of education in a sense – to be able to recognize opportunities that will benefit you in someway ~ Some little things that will help you along the way.

VP:      You’re an extremely committed teacher. What is your favorite thing about teaching?

RD:      It’s what you learn from your students. Teaching is a learning experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve corrected wrong notes in my playing by listening to my students. 

VP:      Any interesting teaching stories?

RD:      Oh, too interesting to recount.

VP:      What do you do in your spare time?

RD:      Oye. What do I do in my spare time? I play with my kids. The little munchkins.

VP:      Looking back on your career, is there anything you wish you had done differently?

RD:      Hindsight may be overrated a bit. You are a result of your experiences.

VP:      Such words of wisdom. Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Diaz. And to those of you following the tour, I hope we’ve given you a glimpse into the life of our wonderful president, Roberto Diaz.

A photo documentation of the interview above. We were in San Francisco, at the airport hotel, the night before we flew to Miami.

<May 2021>

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Strauss: Capriccio, Op. 85
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht for String Sextet, Op. 4
Dvorak: Quintet for Strings in E flat major, Op. 97/B 180
Shostakovich: Quintet for Piano and Strings in G minor, Op. 57
Dutilleux: Quartet for Strings "Ainsi la nuit"
Schumann: Quintet for Piano and Strings in E flat major, Op. 44
Haydn: Quartet for Strings in D major, Op. 76 no 5/H 3 no 79 "Largo"
Beethoven: Quartet for Strings no 15 in A minor, Op. 132
Mendelssohn: Quartet for Strings no 6 in F minor, Op. 80

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