Washburn professor James Rivers releases duo-pianist album with wife

Leia Karimul Bashar

The album “James and Julie Rivers, duo-pianists” isn’t standard listening for many college students, but it has a unique sound that will appeal to legitimate piano aficionados.

The CD celebrates the Rivers’ 40 years of collaboration, and it contains several of the duo’s favorite piano works recorded during their live performances.

According to the album notes, Julie Rivers has been able to play melodies by ear since she was 2 years old. Her formal training as a pianist began at Texas Wesleyan University when she was only 5, and later she continued her musical education at the University of North Texas and the Fort Worth Conservatory of Music. Rivers has been writing original compositions since 1996.

James Rivers is an artist-in-residence at Washburn who has performed internationally as a soloist with major orchestras, in solo recitals in prominent North American and European cities, and in chamber music concerts with world-renowned artists.

The duo performs songs by composers Rachmaninoff, Joio, Poulenc, Bartók and Lutoslawski. The first song, “Concerto in D minor for two pianos,” is one of Poulenc’s most popular songs, and it will instantly command listeners’ attention.

The Rivers’ interpretation of “Symphonic Dances, Op. 45,” showcases the pianists’ abilities as musicians. The song was originally composed for two pianos and is considered by many to be one of Rachmaninoff’s most beautiful melodies.

Particularly impressive was the duo’s encore performance of Rossini’s “La Danza.” It is hard to imagine seeing the song performed live because the pianists’ fingers probably seem to disappear, moving so fast across the keyboards.

All the songs on the CD are from live concert performances, so occasional sounds from the audience break through the Rivers’ playing. However, the quality of the Rivers’ piano playing is world-class: it certainly rivals anything I’ve heard during attendances to the Chicago and New York City Symphony Orchestras. Pianists – particularly those majoring in music at Washburn – will do well to check out this album. It offers an inspiring glimpse into the kinds of talent Washburn has attracted throughout the years.