Manuela Hurtado, Cassidy Choate, Juan Gonzalo Jimenez, Simon Ramirez, Daniella Calle, Jessica Alarcón, Jose Manuel Zapata, Andres Usuga, and Ana Maria Orduz, a group of student musicians from Colombia, pose for a portrait inside the Recital Hall at Voxman Music Building on Friday, July 21, 2017. The group is at the University to attend and participate in the two week long Final Festival Concert: Festival of the Americas. All but Choate will head back to Colombia this month. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Piano Diplomacy


The Festival of the Americas brings together the University of Iowa and Colombian students to learn from each other and grow as pianists.

By Levi Wright

Colombian students and University of Iowa students congregate, letting the fast-paced melodies of the piano bring them together in the Voxman Recital Hall, where the vibrant red walls contrast with the polished piano black.

The Final Festival Concert: Festival of the Americas will take place Saturday in the Voxman Recital Hall. The event features a standard repertoire ranging from the melodic and fast-paced melodies of Bach to Beethoven’s full music that uses the scale of what the piano has to offer from the first A note to the last C.

The Festival of the Americas originated in Colombia, and it has become a joint venture between the UI and the University of Antioquia in Colombia. Réne Lecuona, a UI professor of piano, and Ana Orduz, the head of piano department at Antioquia, created the joint venture.

“We are hoping to give to our participants that careful one-on-one attention that was part of the old European guild system in which you lived with your piano teachers,” Lecuona said. “You lived in their homes, and they practiced with you. We can’t do that nowadays, but this festival is like family, and it’s all about the study of music and all about supporting them becoming more beautiful, competent, and meaningful performing artists.”

The two met when Orduz was pursuing a master’s degree at the UI, and Lecuona was one of Orduz’s professors. In 2014, Orduz invited Lecuona to Colombia to teach and perform. When asked to return, Lecuona invited the students to learn at the UI, and the festival has become an annual event switching between the UI and Antioquia. This year about 15 musicians are involved in the event.

“[The Festival of Americas] is an incredible opportunity to pass on to a younger generation the artistic principles and truth that changed my life and allowed me to become a better musician, pianist, and human being,” Lecuona said.

The festival has new and returning students from two different cultures in which students learn from each other, not only about music but also about culture, like when one another normally eat, work, and practice.

“The festival is special to me because when I started classes two years ago, it was like a new version of music,” said Jessica Alarcon, a returning pianist from Colombia. “Lecuona is really passionate about music, and she transmits that passion to me.”

While in Iowa City, the musicians stay with families in the area. The festival gets not only the players involved but the families, too, to learn about different cultures in the world.

“Families throughout Coralville and Iowa City open their homes to the international participants, and many of those relationships forged years ago continue to this day,” Lecuona said.

The festival serves as foundation for students. They practice for two weeks, focusing on processing the sound and structure of music.

“We wanted a space that focused on musicianship, artistry, and process,” Orduz said. “Those are the three words that inspired us to create this festival. A lot of festivals are about one of them but not about the three together.”

The musical differences from each culture coming together show musicians a new way to look at music. The two cultures are unique in the way the piano is played, because of the varying accompanying instruments. Colombian music might include the Colombian tiple, a type of guitar, where music in the United States will use a classical guitar.

“I think music is like a language,” Alarcon said. “You can go to any place in the world, and you can talk with music. When I came two years ago, my English was terrible, but that didn’t matter because I can understand what the teachers have to say to me and I can play, and I didn’t have the same language as the teachers and classmates. For me it’s special, it’s universal.”

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