The beginnings of Alberto Reyes’s life as a pianist are remarkably similar to those of any other gifted child. Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1948, Alberto Reyes was reading music by the age of three-and-a-half; started formal lessons at six, and made his recital debut in Montevideo as an eight-year-old in October 1956, playing works by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin and Debussy, repeating the program a month later in Buenos Aires.
More recitals followed throughout Uruguay, and at thirteen he made his debut with the Uruguayan Symphony Orchestra (SODRE) at Montevideo’s Teatro Solís, the oldest extant theater in the Americas. For the next five years he led a busy life playing recitals and concerto performances, and making appearances on radio and television in Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil.
In 1966, as a recipient of a grant from the Organization of American States, Alberto Reyes came to the United States to study at the world-renowned Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. A string of prizes and awards followed starting in 1969, including the Rio de Janeiro International Piano Competition, the 1970 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, the 1971 Leventritt Competition in New York, and the 1973 Van Cliburn International Competition in Texas, leading to successful tours in the U.S. (where he made his orchestral debut under the baton of Aaron Copland), Canada, the Soviet Union (with eight appearances in Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and the Ukraine) and South America.
In 1971 he was appointed to the Piano Faculty at Indiana University. Reyes made his recital debut in Moscow in 1972 and his New York debut at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall, in 1974.
Then, in 1976, his musical life underwent a dramatic departure from the usual script. Deeply doubtful of the attractions of a touring pianist’s existence, and equally skeptical of his own suitability for the academic life, Reyes made a startling career change, and in just six months mastered the considerable demands of the profession of a simultaneous interpreter, earning a place on the permanent staff of the United Nations in New York City.
For thirty-one years until his retirement in 2007, Reyes, working as an interpreter in the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, had a front-seat view of the political and diplomatic dimensions of the major international issues of our time, such as the two Gulf wars, the dismantling of Apartheid, the war in the Balkans, the Middle East conflicts, the World Trade Center attack and the war on terrorism, as well as the international investigation of human rights abuses in Pinochet’s Chile, and participated in U.N. conferences in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
During those three decades, Reyes was content to limit his infrequent concert appearances to New York City, (where he played a recital at the 92nd Street Y in 1988 that was praised in TheNew York Times for “[his] way of capturing each work’s essence – the quality of its nervous energy, its musical fingerprint – and his ability to transform it into something like a living organism”), and his native Montevideo. Perhaps, the relative anonymity in which he worked during those years was partly responsible for his falling victim – along with many other pianists such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yefim Bronfman, Marc-André Hamelin and John Browning- to one of the recording industry’s most notorious scandals: the Joyce Hatto hoax.