Maria Mercedes Diaz Garcia is a multi-faceted conductor whose vision of integrating the classics with new creative work highlights the inclusivity with which all eras and genres have always spoken to us. She is the founder and conductor for VIVE! new music ensemble. Join us on May 30 at Urban Artifact for a concert performed by VIVE! featuring works by Michael Lanci, Paul Poston, Julia Seeholzer, Rachel C. Walker, and others.

CSB: What is the background of VIVE!?

MMDG: I had had, a while ago, actually while living in Cincinnati,  the idea of creating a group to perform music from composers from all over the world, and create programs that would be inclusive of different traditions, aesthetics, etc. Also, although I am a conductor, I did not necessarily want to have only conducted pieces in the repertoire, but wanted to combine in some programs music without conductor and music with conductor. In this concert, for instance, we will have a few chamber pieces that do not need a conductor, combined with others that do need me. Another idea came from my feeling that there is a lot of misinformation about what contemporary music is, and I would like to be helpful in bringing the vast diversity of languages that are happening nowadays to the public.

This project as such materialized in 2015, while living in Bowling Green, and has been growing ever since. Recently we did an opera by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, a monodrama for soprano and live electronics composed in 2010, and last year we participated in the New Music Gathering with a piece by Amit Gilutz, an Israeli composer.

CSB: What initially drew you to performing new music, and when did this interest start?

MMDG: Every music has been new at some point. By closing off to new works we are shutting down the voices of our artists and society. Actually, against what many think, new works can touch people in ways that older works might not. The composers, artists, performers creating art now are living in this society and can talk about issues that are current and affect us all. Of course art can be universal too, and touch universal, timeless issues, and that is why we also want to keep the history, in the form of art, alive, but there should be a better balance, where history does not overshadow the present.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when my interest started. As a kid and teenager I used to attend new music festivals. I remember in particular one that was inspired by the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, organized by Spanish composer Manuel Seco de Arpe, but there were several others in cities around, and I traveled to see a few during those years. As an oboist I performed many contemporary works. I was lucky growing up to have some teachers who had a broad interest in all kinds of music and who organized many concerts of all sort of aesthetics.

CSB: How do you approach working with the ensemble on a newly composed piece?

MMDG: I would say the work with the ensemble depends very much on the characteristics of the new piece. I approach the study of the pieces the same way I would do with a Beethoven Symphony, except that the musical elements used are going probably be used differently. The way composers think of the flow of time can be fundamentally different from Beethoven, for instance as in some minimalist works, but in other compositions the concept of time might actually not be different at all from that in traditional works. Depending on what the study of the piece informs me about the aesthetic—the ideas about time, about texture, color, etc—and the specific technical challenges for group playing, we then have a place to start working on the pieces. Sometimes in rehearsal something new happens, one of the performers comes up with a different idea and plays something in a way completely different I had thought of, but it works, it is fine and a real contribution to our process, then we explore from there.

CSB: Could you tell us about your experience working with the composers on this program?

MMDG: The composers on this program all have their very personal language and wrote freely for us. They had a few limitations about the instrumentation to write for, for practical reasons—this concert in Cincinnati is part of a tour that will take us to Nashville and to Dallas, so we needed to keep it light and for instance they all had to write for small percussion instruments and no alto flute.

The piece by Rachel Walker for instance, was originally for a different instrumentation and we asked her to write for the instruments we have now. It is a very interesting piece with very soft sonorities, quite poetic. She has a background as well in Chinese instruments and you can sense that in her music.

The piece by Michael Lanci has a completely different background, taking inspiration from rock and roll, and is quite rhythmical and vibrant.

The work by Paul Poston is inspired by his trip to Spain and reflects on paintings by Picasso that he saw in Reina Sofia Museum, in Madrid.

We are very excited to bring out this program. All the pieces bring a very unique language and it creates a quite micro-cosmic landscape of the contemporary world. We even have a “classic” — one of the John Cage Number Pieces from the 1980’s.

CSB: What concerts and projects are on the horizon for you and the ensemble?

MMDG: We are still thinking about possibilities. We have performed not only contemporary works, but also some very good arrangements from old classics from the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, such as Das Lied von der Erde, the Rite of Spring, and I like the idea of combining works from different periods which draw inspiration from each other.

One idea I have is performing a piece by Messiaen along with a few of the composers that drew inspiration from his work, and try to discover what aspects they found inspiration in.

But I have been thinking for a while I would like to include works with a small choir…maybe by Scelsi…It is still up in the air…

Also, HIllary LaBonte, the soprano who sang the part of Emilie in the Saariaho opera, and I are interested in bringing the performance of the monodrama Emilie to other venues, and we are hoping that will happen during this coming season.