Roberto Diaz

Posted: April 20, 2007

Roberto Díaz is president and chief executive officer of the Curtis Institute of Music, where he also teaches viola. He is the former principal violist of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra. He performs internationally as a soloist and chamber musician.

Quotation to live by: "May you live in interesting times." - Chinese proverb (And I do!)

Books on my nightstand right now: Vivir Para Contarla (Living to Tell the Tale), by Gabriel García Márquez. Cervantes, El Soldado Que Nos Enseñó a Hablar (Cervantes, the Soldier Who Taught Us to Speak), by Maria Teresa León. The Wine Bible, by Karen MacNeil. And a lot of cookbooks.

Favorite author, nonfiction: When my wife and I first went to Le Bec-Fin, we loved it, so she bought me Georges Perrier's cookbook, Le Bec-Fin Recipes, as a present. In the foreword, he writes about what it takes to become a chef, and, word for word, it's what we go through in music. It's constant experimenting, in both cases, constantly making it better.

Favorite author, fiction: Ernest Hemingway.

Favorite composer: Depends on the day of the week. Some days, Brahms is the best thing you can hear. Other days, Bach. . . . I can't even begin to answer this!

Poetry that has affected me: I recently read some love poems by Pablo Neruda that the composer Peter Lieberson set to music for his . . . wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who was a wonderful singer. I heard the CD she made of the songs . . . and they are wonderful music, too - made from incredible poetry.

A book that influenced how I live my life: Rather than a single book, I would say it's the cumulative effect of several composer biographies, and especially reading about the barriers they encountered. These guys banged their heads against the wall, and I'm sure they questioned what they were doing, and yet they persisted. A few biographies that stand out for me are Jan Swafford's Johannes Brahms: A Biography; Berlioz's Memoirs; and Testimony: The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich, by Solomon Volkov.

The last book I read: Good to Great, by Jim Collins.

A musical work that has influenced my life: The Viola Sonata, by Shostakovich. It's one of the greatest pieces ever written, right up there with some of the late Beethoven quartets.

Web sites I visit regularly: I don't even visit my own Web site!

If you turned my car radio on right now, it would be tuned to: WHYY-FM (90.9) and WRTI-FM (90.1). I listen to Eagles games on WYSP-FM (94.1).

What's in my CD player: I listen to CDs when I'm driving long distances, and then I'll take along several big works, like a few Mahler symphonies or a cycle of Beethoven quartets.

Last concert/performance attended: I was recently in San Francisco, where I heard one of our students, the pianist Yuja Wang, playing a concert with the San Francisco Symphony. She's 20 years old, and she just debuted in the last few weeks with the Chicago Symphony and the Boston Symphony. Even so, she's still playing chamber music with the other students here at school.

Music I play when my soul needs a lift: I pick up my viola and play Bach's solo sonatas or suites.

Person in my field I most admire: The violinist Louis Krasner. I studied with him when I was playing in the Boston Symphony. He looked like Yoda from Star Wars - and he was wise in the same way. He used to say, "You can't teach anyone something they don't already have inside. You can only pull out of them what is already there."

Living person I'd most like to join for dinner and conversation: Derek Bok, former president of Harvard, who is also the grandson of the Curtis Institute's founder, Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist.

Person from another era I'd most like to join for dinner and conversation: I think I could have a really good time with Brahms over dinner.

If I had the power to order all of the Philadelphia region to hear one piece of music, it would be: The St. Matthew Passion by Bach.

And here's why: If you really sit down and listen - start to finish - it will change you forever.

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