While most of the guest soloists who perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra travel hundreds of miles to remote cities around the world, Jorge Federico Osorio will only need a 10-minute drive.
The 70-year-old pianist, who lives in Highland Park about five miles from the 36-acre Ravinia festival grounds, will join the orchestra on July 9 for the opening of his 15-concert residency. In all, he has performed summer musical extravagance more than 10 times since 1998.
“It’s like my local festival, and it’s been wonderful,” he said.
Osorio may not have the brilliance or fame of some of his keyboard counterparts, but the Mexican-born pianist is highly regarded in the classical world for his thoughtful, honest and refined piano style.
Among the soloist’s fans is renowned conductor James Conlon, who was musical director of the Ravinia Festival from 2005 to 2015 and conducted several concerts featuring Osorio as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony, including an ensemble complete of Beethoven’s five piano concertos.
“Among the many artists I have worked with at Ravinia, he stands out,” Conlon said via email. “In the current era of inverted values, his deep, non-theatrical musicality attests to a level of seriousness which should be the norm but which one does not come across as often as one would like.”
After a one-year hiatus due to the coronavirus shutdown, the Ravinia Festival features a somewhat abbreviated season of over 70 concerts, with some capacity limits and other coronavirus protocols in place to ensure public safety .
The July 9 performance will be just the 13th live performance of the Chicago Symphony since its return on May 27 to the Orchestra Hall stage after nearly 15 months of inaction, followed by small ensemble virtual performances.
It will be directed by Marin Alsop, who is making her debut as conductor and curator of the Ravinia Festival, the first such post in the history of the event. In all, she will conduct seven of the Chicago Symphony concerts this summer, including a July 10 program that will focus on the works of women and composers of color.
Osorio was supposed to perform Rachmaninoff’s beloved “Rhapsody on a Paganini Theme” in Ravinia in 2020, but he will instead perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488, for this makeup appearance. Orchestral forces will be reduced to allow social distancing on stage this summer, and the earlier classical-era concerto doesn’t require as many musicians.
“I am delighted,” said the pianist. “I love this concerto. I think this is one of the most beautiful and unusual [of Mozart’s 27 piano concertos]. The colors he gets with two clarinets and the wonderful adagio which is so poignant and expressive is really something else.
Osorio grew up in Mexico City, where he began his piano studies first with his mother then at the National Conservatory of Mexico before leaving at the age of 16 for further training in Paris and then at the Moscow Conservatory.
He took part in several competitions and won a few prizes, but he did not catapult himself onto the music scene like some winners of prestigious competitions such as the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Instead, his career developed in a more gradual fashion.
The young pianist won first place in the little-known Rhode Island International Piano Competition in the early 1970s, and one of the prizes was a chance to tour the United States with the Warsaw Philharmonic. The then musical director, Witold Rowicki, then invited Osorio to play with the orchestra in Poland, and his career began to take off in Europe.
His big breakthrough in the United States came on a lark. He was performing with the San Antonio, Texas Symphony in the early 1990s when Henry Fogel, then President and CEO of the Chicago Symphony, was in the audience.
Fogel clearly liked what he heard, and this appreciation led to Osorio’s first recital at Orchestra Hall in February 1996 and, shortly thereafter, to an engagement with the orchestra to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody” with guest conductor Christopher Wilkins.
“It’s a very competitive field,” said the pianist. “You must be persistent, and I guess you must be lucky. As they say, sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time. Then things start to develop.
Both Osorio’s parents were musicians and he listened to their Chicago Symphony recordings as a child. “I always thought I would like to play with this orchestra,” he said. “Somehow it just caught my imagination. So, what a pleasure it was for me to make this dream come true several times. “
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.