An action shot of Gabriela Diaz performing.

Violinist Gabriela Diaz joins renowned Kronos Quartet

Author  Stacey Schmeidel
Published on 

When the world’s most famous string quartet begins its 51st season this fall, a Wellesley College professor will be part of the ensemble.

Gabriela Diaz, music performance faculty in violin at Wellesley since 2012, is the new violinist with the prestigious Kronos Quartet. She’ll join the group when it starts rehearsals this summer, while continuing to teach at Wellesley.

The Kronos Quartet is the Yo-Yo Ma of string ensembles: If you know the name of one chamber group, it’s likely to be Kronos. Renowned for extraordinary musicianship (three Grammy Awards, 12 nominations, and numerous other prizes), the ensemble is also famous for bringing hipper, younger audiences into the concert hall by performing an eclectic range of contemporary music (for example, this gritty version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”). A global cultural force that’s performed thousands of concerts around the world and sold more than 4 million recordings, Kronos has commissioned more than 1,100 new works and arrangements in its 50 years together.

“Kronos really is opening up what the string quartet can and should be,” Diaz says. “The majority of the most important 20th- and 21st-century works for quartet are works that they’ve been involved with. And, since the beginning, they’ve made a point to uplift music of all countries. They’ve always operated with respect for the music of every culture on the globe.”

Opportunities to join preeminent ensembles like Kronos don’t come along very often. But when longtime Kronos members John Sherba (violin) and Hank Dutt (viola) announced that they’d be retiring in June, after the quartet’s 50th-anniversary tour, Diaz was invited to audition for the second violinist’s spot.

Diaz has already had a long and distinguished career as a performer and a fierce champion of contemporary music. A member of the International Contemporary Ensemble and concertmaster of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, she has worked closely with many important composers, including Pierre Boulez, Steve Reich, and Joan Tower, among others.

We have an incredible faculty who care about music and the place of music in people’s lives. If someone has had music in their life, all we want is for them to love music more after they leave Wellesley.

Gabriela Diaz, music performance faculty in violin

For her Kronos audition, Diaz was asked to prepare 25 standards from the group’s repertoire, including “Purple Haze,” some pieces by Laurie Anderson, and some short works from “50 for the Future”—an open-source library of new works designed by Kronos to help young people perform contemporary music. For two days, she rehearsed with the quartet, getting the feel of what it would be like to work as an ensemble.

“People always say that being part of a string quartet is like being married to three other people,” Diaz says, smiling. “It doesn’t always work. But this worked really well. Playing together felt really comfortable—and exciting.”
In a follow-up Zoom interview, the group asked Diaz a remarkable question: “What do you imagine Kronos’ role could be in helping with global issues like climate change, class inequality, and so on?” It’s testament to the huge platform an ensemble like Kronos can offer—and to the role music can play outside the concert hall, in real people’s daily lives.

Diaz has experienced that firsthand in her own work bringing chamber music into cancer units in Boston hospitals. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease shortly before her 16th birthday, Diaz knows the profound relief music can bring to people who are struggling, and she is committed to helping others find the same comfort and catharsis music has always given her.

Although Diaz knew she wanted to be a violinist when she was quite young, she recognizes that not everyone discovers that level of commitment as early as she did—if at all! And she firmly believes Wellesley is the best place for anyone who loves music—whether or not they intend to be a music major.

“If you want to major in music, Wellesley is a great place to be,” says Diaz, who teaches around 10 violin students each year at the College, emphasizing the classical repertoire as well as the work of living composers. “If you don’t want to be a professional, Wellesley is the perfect place for you, too. We have an incredible faculty who care about music and the place of music in people’s lives. If someone has had music in their life, all we want is for them to love music more after they leave Wellesley.”