Musicians know. The rest of the world – they’re starting to learn.
The stature and influence of the Curtis Institute of Music, an elite conservatory in Philadelphia, has been spread over the years mostly by its famous alumni. Like its former presidents, including Rudolf Serkin or Efrem Zimbalist. Composers like Samuel Barber, Vincent Persichetti, Nino Rota and Leonard Bernstein. And by its hundreds of instrumentalists, including Yuja Wang, Yefim Bronfman, Lang Lang and Hilary Hahn.
But with fewer than 200 students each year – less than 5 percent of auditioning hopefuls – Curtis still remains largely appreciated by music-industry insiders. Roberto DÍaz has been changing that.
DÍaz, the esteemed violist who became the seventh president of Curtis in 2006, wanted to spread the word about his institution’s impact. One of many educational initiatives he has begun is a regular touring presence, bringing students and alums from Curtis to far corners of the world.
Falmouth is one of those corners, as a quartet from Curtis on Tour – including DÍaz himself – will come to Highfield Hall Monday evening to perform works by Mozart, Shostakovich and Ravel.
“When I started as director, Curtis was a well-kept secret,” DÍaz says. “There was a perception of, ‘If you don’t know us, you don’t need to know.’ That was not a healthy attitude.”
DÍaz, born in Chile, went to Curtis himself, before starting a career during which he become principal viola of both the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra. He wanted Curtis to reflect the growing diversity in the music world – in its student population, in its management, and in its board members as well.
If you go
What: Curtis on Tour (Bella Hristova and Maria Ioudenitch, violins; Roberto DÍaz, viola; and Timotheos Petrin, cello)
Program includes: Music of Mozart, Shostakovich and Ravel
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Highfield Hall, 56 Highfield Drive, Falmouth
Reservations and information: www.highfieldhallandgardens.org; 508-495-1878
So he took his talent on the road.
“It had humble beginnings,” he says of Curtis on Tour. “But gradually we brought in a global network of presenters – performing is different in Korea than it is in China, or in Japan. Now we can offer way more to our students, and it’s a great way to connect with alums around the world.
“We are active year-round,” he says, on six to eight different tours. “And at this point we offer much more than our students can handle, so we often just tour with alums.”
The touring has brought diverse members to the board: “We have trustees from Hong Kong, from Europe, on the west coast and Canada,” he says. It also attracted one notable gift – $55 million, from now-former board president Nina von Maltzahn – who first saw Curtis on Tour in Berlin.
“Now we can plan ahead,” he says, referring to the gift. “Students have the ability to count on touring as part of their education.”
DÍaz will be joined Monday by violinists Bella Hristova and Maria Ioudenitch, and cellist Timotheos Petrin. Hristova has become one of Curtis’s latest group of star performers. She entered Curtis in 2003, and has since been awarded multiple prizes,including an Avery Fisher Career Grant, and first prize in the Young Concert Artists competition. She’s in demand as a soloist and as a chamber musician around the world.
“The one thing I’m most proud of here at Curtis,” DÍaz says, “is that we’ve become comfortable with innovation. Curtis on Tour was an experiment. Now it’s evolved, and become its own brand. Even though the school is a simple meritocracy – you have to play well, first and foremost – we’ve made the school quite diverse, and we’ve really become an institution with a broad international footprint.”