'To be in the middle of that!' Gabriela Diaz-Alatriste, on conducting
"Classics a la Carte," KPAC's weekly program of listener suggestions and requests, rounds out Hispanic Heritage Month with special guest Gabriela Diaz-Alatriste, the first Mexican woman to ever hold the Music Directorship of a professional Mexican orchestra. In conversation with host James Baker, Diaz-Alatriste tells of the challenges of breaking through the barriers of what is traditionally a man's world, leading a full symphony orchestra, not only at the musical level, but also administrative.
Asked when she first found herself attracted to classical music, Diaz-Alatriste responds: “When I heard it, when I listened to it, that's when I became in love with this kind of music.”
At the age of 11, she began serious study of the piano at the conservatory. “I knew that that was going to be my profession.” And then, singing in the choir, she experienced Johannes Brahms' "Requiem" and Gustav Mahler's Third Symphony. The conducting bug bit. “What made me become a conductor was the repertoire, that music, that amazing music . . . for me was like, wow, to be the conductor, I mean, to be in the middle of that.”
Several degrees and diplomas later, Diaz-Alatriste approached the famed Mexican conductor, Eduardo Mata. “I went to him, and I talked to him. And he was a very serious person all the time. If you met him personally, [he was] very kind, but not an easy person to approach. But I went and I told him the way I'm telling you, that I wanted to be a conductor, and he took me seriously.”
Mata invited Diaz-Alatriste to come to Dallas to observe his work and receive his guidance. It was while she was working with Mata that another musician suggested she might want to study with Anshel Brusilow, one time concertmaster of Eugene Ormandy's Philadelphia Orchestra. Asked if she was interested, she thought: “I had little to no idea who Brusilow was. But I said, 'yeah, sounds fantastic, sounds exactly what I want.' So I went the next day, he took me to Brusilow, to SMU where he was, and I talked to him. And he was like, 'Oh, sure. So you want to study?' 'Yes, I would love to study.' 'So you want an audition?' 'Well, sure. Yes.' 'So can you come for the next rehearsal to audition? Well, sure, I suppose I'm here.'”
The audition was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6. She borrowed a score and baton from Brusilow, and arranged access to a piano so she could embark on a crash course on the "Pathetique." Despite the odds, she passed the audition and was accepted into Brusilow's conducting class, first at Southern Methodist University and then at the University of North Texas.
Diaz-Alatriste gives vivid accounts of her experiences, while suggesting that the best is yet to come. She is currently one of two candidates for directorship of the Classical Tahoe summer festival, where she guest conducted several concerts in July and early August.
You can hear highlights from the interview with Gabriela Diaz-Alatriste, plus several recordings she has made, during hour one of this week's Classics a la Carte. You will also hear two sides of Gabriela's teacher, Anshel Brusilow, as concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra and as conductor of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia.
Classics a la Carte airs Friday nights from 7-9 p.m. on KPAC 88.3 FM and KTXI 90.1 FM.