05/07/2013 11:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Blanca Uribe in Bogotá: A Beacon For Beethoven

Getty Images


Blanca Uribe in Bogotá, April, 2013. Photo credit: Marina Camacho de Samper.

After stepping down as George Sherman Dickinson Professor of Music at Vassar College in 2005, Blanca Uribe returned to her native Colombia, and her home town of Medellin. No one who knew Blanca during her 35 years at Vassar will be surprised to learn that Blanca has since remained active as a performer, educator and jurist, and has become widely and wisely influential in the lives of her students, city and country. She will serve as a juror at the upcoming Van Cliburn finals in Fort Worth.

"When one speaks of the music of Colombia," the young conductor Alejandro Posada said recently, "the first person that comes to mind is Blanca Uribe."

Blanca's importance was acknowledged when Bogotá's first International Music Festival invited her to perform a special recital of three Beethoven piano sonatas. Her gracious acceptance and compelling playing confirmed the new Festival's seriousness of purpose and legitimacy. The recital on March 30 at 11:30 was the most intimate of the 25 Festival concerts I attended. In the space of an hour, Blanca and Beethoven embraced the overflow audience in the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo's recital hall. It was typical of the life-enhancing relationships that classical music make; Blanca listens carefully to Beethoven while she is playing and so the listeners become wrapped up in the gradually unfolding process.

In Beethoven's Sonata Opus 78 in F sharp major, for example, which the composer dedicated to a young, intelligent, passionate and talented Hungarian noblewoman, Therese von Brunswick, Blanca laid out each note as if it were part of a secret language between Beethoven and Therese -- as it certainly may have been considering that she was briefly once an "Immortal Beloved" contender.

When the adoring audience supplicated for an encore, Blanca responded with a kind and courageous gesture meant to heal wounds and bring together old friends. In honor of the great Colombian harpsichordist Rafael Puyana, who had died on March 1 in Paris, long and bitterly estranged from his native country, she played a consoling sonata by Puyana's favorite composer, Domenico Scarlatti.

I talked to Blanca briefly in the green room afterwards, about the Festival and its charismatic actor/director/playwright Ramiro Osorio, one of Colombia's most iconic male heartthrobs and the country's first Minister of Culture.

The Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogotá, which Osorio had started in 1988, she told me proudly, now brings in theatrical companies and troupes from all over the world, and she was proud too that the public response to the new Festival Internacional de Musica, devoted entirely to Beethoven, was so overwhelming. Osorio's approach to building public-private alliances in support of the arts bears watching, Blanca believes, for it is based on the assumption that the best outreach for art is universal access and great quality.

She was also impressed by the youth and talent of Osorio's staff. You couldn't help but like them, she said. During the course of the Festival I had come to know some of them well myself, including a 27-year old lawyer and single mom hoping to break into management at the Cirque du Soleil; a young musician whose street smarts and musical sparks could ignite the Festival's multi-cultural parties; and a young anthropologist who wants to work in the field on behalf of long-neglected social needs.

With her customary generosity and enthusiasm, Blanca agreed that the kids at the Teatro were more than just first rate. "They are the future of Colombia," she said, "it is they who will build the new infrastructure."

For my Spotify playlist, I have selected several gentle movements from Beethoven's late sonatas, which Blanca made her own, a graceful little Argentinean lyric by Albert Ginastera, and Rafael Puyana playing an inimitable Romanesca.