For nearly 14 minutes, their fingers do the talking. Often digressing into conversations of agitation, the duo mutates neuroticism into an art. Two sleek black Steinway grand pianos are fit snugly together like adjacent puzzle pieces. The backdrop is a wooden wall ordered with rows of metopes. Perhaps, the setting is a bit too perfect. Beginning the piece, Wilson sneaks in his first few notes. With no cue needed, Uribe shortly follows this discreet behavior.
The budding notes unexpectedly bloom into an affixing scale and culminate at a mysterious high-pitched trill. Following the first page turn, the piece bursts into what is, at first, a discordant arbitration of rests and chords. However, with time, the repetitive arbitration constructs itself into a structure of complex syncopation and sass. The architecture of Skinner Hall takes form of a paradox.
Pounding on the last of their chords drenched in both angst and relief, Uribe and Wilson end their performance on a pyrotechnic note.
Composed by Professor of Music Richard Wilson, “Agitations,” a piece for two pianos, was performed by Professor Emerita Blanca Uribe and Wilson himself on March 6, 2014.
Fast-forward a little more than a year, Uribe and Wilson continue their tradition of yet another exhilarating program for two pianos on Sunday, June 20, 2015, marking the 40th anniversary of their first two-piano program at Vassar. “We have played a two-piano recital here nearly every year for forty years…Our first duo-concert was May 7, 1975,” wrote Wilson.
Concert Administrator Amy Kawa enthusiastically expressed, “[I]t’s their 40th consecutive year of playing a two piano concert together at Vassar!”
But the two haven’t always been the piano-duo as they are known today at Vassar. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Uribe was raised in a family of musicians. She began her musical studies with her grandmother Maria Garcia, a pianist, and later studied the piano with Luisa Manighetti. At 11 years old, Uribe made her debut with the Colombian Symphony.
The following year, she was offered to study abroad in Kansas City and a few years later embarked on a new journey at the Vienna Academy, where she studied with Richard Hauser. Studying under Rosina Lhevinne, Uribe earned a degree at the prestigious Julliard School of Music in New York City.
Seven years later, Uribe embarked on yet another new journey at Vassar College, where she served on the faculty as Dickinson Professor teaching piano from 1969 to 2005. She spoke at Spring Convocation in 2005. “The beauty of the campus captivated me; the sixty-eight Steinway grand pianos overwhelmed me. There could be no excuse for not practicing in this place! And I loved the magnificent library—both the main library and the unusually fine music library,” she said in her speech.
Since 2005, she has moved backed to her home country Colombia, where she currently serves as a faculty member of EAFIT University’s Department of Music in Medellin, Colombia. Uribe has received much acclaim for her interpretations of sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven and La Suite Iberia by Isaac Albéniz.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Wilson is a composer of more than 100 works for mixed ensemble, string quartet, solo piano, solo instruments, voice, and choir. In 1963, Wilson graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University and later received his Masters of Arts from Rutgers University. He is currently Professor of Music on the Mary Conover Mellon Chair at the College and a composer-in-residence with the American Symphony Orchestra.
Wilson’s compositions are most notable for their lyrical atonality. His compositions Eclogue for solo piano and String Quartet No. 3 are considered to be pinnacles of 20th-century American music. Larger works by Wilson include Symphony No. 1, Articulations, and “Aethelred the Unready”.
Uribe and Wilson’s musical interactions, however, extend beyond their annual two-piano program. Uribe has performed compositions by Wilson, including Eclogue for solo piano, Sonata for Viola and Piano, and Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. In fact, Wilson wrote the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra for Uribe in 1991; the piece was premiered at Bard College, Vassar College, and Alice Tully Hall Lincoln Center the same year.
The history of their annual two-piano program since 1975 is as interesting as the mechanics of two-piano ensembles. In light of the upcoming concert, Michael Chung ’19, a pianist himself, said, “Two-piano ensembles require technical and musical coordination. Although it is a performance given by two people, it should seem like it is given by one person. [The pianists] depend on each other yet enhance each other in their playing.”