Reynaldo G. Reyes, concert pianist and Towson University teacher, dies

Reynaldo Reyes, an internationally-known pianist and longtime Towson University faculty member, died Feb. 15. He was 82.
Reynaldo Reyes, an internationally-known pianist and longtime Towson University faculty member, died Feb. 15. He was 82. (File photo / Baltimore Sun)

Reynaldo G. Reyes, an internationally known concert pianist who had been a member of the music faculty at Towson University for more than 50 years, died Feb. 15 of a brain hemorrhage at Sinai Hospital.

The longtime Lutherville resident was 82.


"Reynaldo was a brilliant pianist, a gentle man, spoke nine languages and was extraordinarily modest," said Judy Torme, who first met Mr. Reyes when both were Peabody Conservatory of Music students in the late 1950s.

"He was one of a kind and can never be replaced. His death is a great loss to the world of music," said Ms. Torme, who later became a fixture in the early days of Baltimore television when she was the regular singer on WBAL's "The Brent Gunts Show," a daily variety show. "He was my darling friend."


Reynaldo Gutierrez Reyes was born in Manila, the son of Telesforo Reyes, who was mayor of the town of Alitagtag, Philippines, where he was raised, and Brigida Reyes, a homemaker.

Though he was a child prodigy, Mr. Reyes' family could not afford to buy a piano until he was 5 years old.

"Having a piano was a sign of social standing," Mr. Reyes told The Towson Times in a 2010 interview.

During World War II, when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, his family tied their furniture and the precious piano to trees and then covered them as they feared the enemy would burn their village and home.

In 1947, the 13-year-old successfully auditioned for the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music in Manila, and also enrolled at the local high school.

"My teenage years disappeared between piano lessons at 7 a.m., four hours at the conservatory, four hours at the high school and studying for both followed by piano practice at 9 p.m. and, finally, sleep," he explained to the Towson Times.

He earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1951 and then he went to Paris after he won a scholarship to continue his studies at the Conservatoire Nationale Superieur de Musique, where he later won the Premier Prix du Piano in 1957.

In 1958, Mr. Reyes left Paris and moved to Baltimore to study at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he studied with noted pianists Leon Fleisher and Mieczyslaw Munz and earned his master's degree and artist's diploma in 1960.

Mr. Reyes joined the piano faculty of Towson University in 1962 and was still teaching there part time at the time of his death.

"He was still teaching and performing until the end," said his wife and protege of 33 years, Christina Giorgilli, a pianist, who met her future husband when she was a student at Towson.

"He established himself as a master teacher esteemed by all for his ability to inspire as well as instruct," wrote Ms. Reyes in an email. "Many of his former students now teach and perform in the United States and abroad and have won international piano contests."

Mr. Reyes brought pianist Eva Mengelkoch to Towson in 1999, where she is a professor of piano and coordinator of the keyboard division.


"Reynaldo was always thinking of the future and how he could serve the students. He was involved in curriculum change. At least once a week he'd say, 'I'd rather die than stop teaching.' He was a man of unmatched energy," said Ms. Mengelkoch.

"As an artist, he learned in Paris that you learned to play everything, so he could play all of the Debussy preludes, Chopin etudes and the 32 Beethoven sonatas. This is a huge endeavor," she said. "He could also sight read anything. This was one of his specialties and a huge gift."

When Mr. Reyes celebrated his 40th year at Towson, the university established the Reynaldo Reyes Scholarship Endowment in the Department of Music.

"This will be a legacy for his piano students," said Ms. Mengelkoch.

"He raised me and taught me my first notes and then I went on to the Juilliard School," said Sara Davis Buechner, a Lochearn native and pianist, who is now professor of music at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

"He was such a magnificent teacher and taught me from the age of 5 to 16. It was an old school apprenticeship. I've always called him my Musical Dad," said Dr. Buechner, who earned her doctorate in music from the Manhattan School of Music.

"He was the most creative, energetic, imaginative, fun, and delightful person I've ever known. He was a remarkable person who adored teaching morning, noon and night," said Dr. Buechner. "He taught generations of musicians and even enjoyed teaching small children, which is a very rare thing."

One of his former students founded the Towson University Preparatory Division, where Mr. Reyes also taught.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Reyes performed for more than 50 years, won many prestigious contests, including the International Piano competition in Rio de Janeiro, the International Piano Competition in Bolzano, Italy, and the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Internationale Piano Competition in Paris.

In addition to the United States, his concertizing took Mr. Reyes all over the world, including his homeland where he performed once a year.

Through the years, he performed hundreds of solo concerts and was a member of the Baltimore Trio for more than 30 years. He also enjoyed performing for inner city students and at local retirement communities.

In 1977, Ms. Torme established Performing Arts for Children's Education which is affiliated with the Baltimore Music Club, which brings musicians to public and private schools.

"I knew he was so busy, so I didn't ask him if he'd be interested in performing until two years later, and he said, 'I was wondering when you were going to ask me,'" recalled Ms. Torme with a laugh.

The first year he played with the organization he performed "La Campanella" in a public school.

"This is one of the most difficult pieces to play and very few can play it, but he could," said Ms. Torme.

"The black keys started flying off the piano, and when he finished, he told a woman who had her head in her hand and was so embarrassed, 'I think some someone needs to look at your piano,'" said Ms. Torme.

Another time when he performed at an Eastern Shore school, an 8-year-old girl was crying in the hallway.

"I said, 'Honey, what's the matter?' and her teacher said, 'She's crying because she said it was so beautiful that she didn't want it to stop,'" said Ms. Torme.

He told the Towson Times that his "favorite music was whatever he was playing at the moment."

"I do love music, but when I am relaxing, I don't want to hear it," he said in the interview. "I'm all day teaching and listening, I want to get away from it."

A memorial Mass will be offered at 1 p.m. April 30 at St. Matthew Roman Catholic Church, 5401 Loch Raven Blvd., Baynesville.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Reyes is survived by a son, Telesforo Reyes of Towson; a stepson, Michael Luperini of Portland, Ore.; a brother, Telesforo Reyes Jr. of Ellicott City; three sisters, Maxima Recto, Zosima Albay and Luisita DeCastro, all of the Philippines; and two grandsons.

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