Click here for the archive of profiles that takes you behind the scenes with some of the featured performers who bring their special talents to Emmanuel Music.
When violinist Gabriela Diaz played her first Bach cantata with Emmanuel Music it was a particularly memorable experience. She played under the baton of Craig Smith in what would prove to be her first and only time playing for Emmanuel Music’s founder. "It was a blissful experience," Diaz recalls. "Craig gave wonderful insights into the text to help us communicate their meaning in our playing. And though I’d played bits of Bach cantatas at school, I’d never played with such amazing musicians who knew so well how to play this music."
Over time Diaz has played more and more frequently with Emmanuel Music, all the while maintaining much of that first thrill. "Every week that I get to play a cantata is so eye-opening. Ryan Turner does so much to help us play in the most beautiful way. He gives specific guidance and yet also listens to us. Ryan trusts musicians and musicians trust him." Diaz is still learning the large cantata repertoire, but looks forward to being like colleagues such as oboist Peggy Pearson and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer, who have played cantatas multiple times and bring that depth of experience to each performance.
In this 2013-14 season Diaz has been named one of Emmanuel Music’s Lorraine Hunt Lieberson Fellows. This award recognizes younger Emmanuel Music artists who have demonstrated exceptional artistic talent and have enthusiastically participated within the Emmanuel community of musicians.
As a Fellow, Diaz will be featured in the fourth chamber concert of the final year of the Beethoven series, playing both the final Violin Sonata, Op. 96, and the "Archduke Trio". "This violin sonata is my favorite of the ten; it is incredibly beautiful," Diaz says. She is also thrilled to be playing the "Archduke Trio" with pianist Russell Sherman and cellist Popper-Keizer. "Russell is one of my heroes. I went to all his recitals when I was a student at New England Conservatory, and I have listened obsessively to the recordings of his Beethoven piano sonatas." She adds, "Russell has played the "Archduke" so often and will have amazing insights as we work together on the piece." Popper-Keizer, the third soloist, is a friend and frequent collaborator. In fact, he and Diaz have just launched a new string quartet named Simrock (after a German music publisher) to give them an opportunity to play string quartet repertoire together, what Diaz calls "the greatest music on earth."
Diaz grew up in a musical family that was a profound influence on her own musical life. Both parents are professional musicians and were her teachers until she came to NEC. Her two much older brothers are both professional musicians. Roberto, a violist, is currently President of the Curtis Institute of Music; Andres, a cellist, teaches both at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and the Glenn Gould School in Toronto.
Diaz began piano lessons with her mother at age four and violin lessons with her father at age six. When she was young, piano lessons were a fun "music time," but her father was a more demanding teacher from the start. "My father always focused on how I could make my sound and my playing as beautiful as possible. He always pushed me to think about how I should express myself. At home, any moment of my personal practice could become a lesson if he was within earshot, which helped practice more productively. Music was everywhere in our house, and I will always be so grateful for that."
Despite her musical upbringing and training, in high school Diaz was not sure she wanted to be a musician. At sixteen she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease (she is now fully recovered) and music became a critical lifeline. "Even when I was in treatment and couldn’t play, I listened to music constantly; it was both a distraction from hard times and a form of catharsis for me. I realized then that I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life but music."
After graduating from high school in Columbus, Georgia, Diaz followed in her brothers’ footsteps and came to NEC to study with James Buswell. "He was the perfect teacher for me and I spent six years, undergrad and Master’s, with him. He complemented my father by focusing on how I could work on technical issues as well as musical issues. He helped me become more confident in my technique by teaching me how to diagnose the root of the problem and figure out how to fix it."
Diaz feels fortunate to have had focused time with just these two violin teachers. "Whenever I work on a hard passage I always have my father and Mr. Buswell in my head, helping me to work through the music. Their advice and wisdom are present in my mind as I teach my students at Wellesley College."
Diaz is one of Boston’s active and talented freelancers. In addition to her frequent appearances with Emmanuel Music, Diaz is deeply engaged in Boston’s burgeoning contemporary music scene, playing in a variety of ensembles, from the well-established Boston Modern Orchestra Project led by Gil Rose to the edgy Callithumpian Consort led by Steve Drury. Her BMOP connection has led to one of the highlights of this 2013-14 season; Diaz is completing a recording project as soloist of two violin concertos and a solo violin piece by Roger Reynolds, a composer at the University of California at Davis. (She has already recorded one of Reynolds’s violin concertos.) "Playing Roger’s music is thrilling," Diaz says. "His language is cutting-edge and completely gorgeous, and I have so enjoyed getting to know him as a person." She also values Drury’s leadership of Callithumpian Consort. "Drury brings in established composers each year to work with the ensemble, so we get a sense of who the composer is and what is important to the composer in the music. It is a thrill to have a composer present during the rehearsal process. If only we could ask Bach questions about his music!" Diaz also performs frequently with the Firebird Ensemble, the Ludovico Ensemble, Sound Icon, Boston Musica Viva, and Guerilla Opera. In these varied groups many of the same core group of musicians assembles in different formations, forming ties to each other as they explore new music together.
Diaz loves her work and is grateful for her many opportunities to make music. "We musicians are so lucky that we spend our days playing and thinking about the finest pieces of art, and I feel particularly lucky that I am able to do that with my friends and colleagues here in Boston. It is such a pleasure to be in a community where I am constantly engaging with people who I admire so much on a personal level, and those relationships bring even more beauty to the process of playing music together."