While most guest soloists who perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra travel hundreds of miles from far-flung cities around the world, Jorge Federico Osorio will only need to take a 10-minute automobile ride.
The 70-year-old pianist, who lives in Highland Park about five miles from the 36-acre Ravinia Festival grounds, will join the orchestra there for the July 9 opening of its 15-concert residency. In all, he has performed more than 10 times at the summer musical extravaganza since 1998.
“It’s like my local festival, and it’s been wonderful,” he said.
Osorio might not possess the flashiness or fame of some of his keyboard counterparts, but the Mexican-born pianist is highly esteemed within the classical world for his thoughtful, honest and refined style of pianism.
Among the soloist’s fans is famed conductor James Conlon, who served as the Ravinia Festival’s music director from 2005 through 2015 and led multiple concerts featuring Osorio as soloist with the Chicago Symphony, including a complete set of the five Beethoven piano concertos.
“Of the many artists with whom I worked at Ravinia, he stands out,” Conlon said via email. “In today’s age of inverted values, his deep, un-theatrical musicianship attests to a standard of seriousness that should be the norm but that one does not encounter as often as one wished.”
After a one-year hiatus because of the coronavirus shutdown, the Ravinia Festival is presenting a somewhat abbreviated season of more than 70 concerts, with certain capacity limits and other Coronavirus protocols in place to help ensure audience safety.
The July 9 performance will be just the 13th live, in-person performance by the Chicago Symphony since it returned May 27 to the Orchestra Hall stage after nearly 15 months of, at first, inaction, and later virtual, small-ensemble presentations.
It will be led by Marin Alsop, who makes her debut as chief conductor and curator of the Ravinia Festival — the first such position in the event’s history. In all, she will lead seven of the Chicago Symphony’s concerts this summer, including a July 10 program that focuses on works by women and composers of color.
Osorio was supposed to perform Rachmaninoff’s beloved “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” at Ravinia in 2020, but he instead will take on Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488, for this make-up appearance. The orchestra’s forces will be reduced to allow for social distancing onstage this summer, and the earlier, classical-era concerto does not require as many musicians.
“I’m delighted,” the pianist said. “I just love this concerto. I think it’s one of the most beautiful and unusual [of Mozart’s 27 piano concertos]. The colors that he gets with two clarinets and the wonderful adagio which is so poignant and expressive — it’s really something else.”
Osorio grew up in Mexico City, where he began his piano studies first with his mother and later at the National Conservatory of Mexico before leaving at age 16 for more advanced training in Paris and then the Moscow Conservatory.
He entered several competitions and won some prizes, but he did not catapult onto the music scene like some winners of high-profile contests such as the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Instead, his career developed more incrementally.
The young pianist did take first place at the little-known Rhode Island International Master Piano Competition in the early 1970s, and one of the prizes was a chance to tour the United States with the Warsaw Philharmonic. Then-music director Witold Rowicki later invited Osorio to play with the orchestra in Poland, and his career began to take off in Europe.
His big break in the United States happened on a lark. He was performing with the San Antonio (Texas) Symphony in the early 1990s when Henry Fogel, then the Chicago Symphony’s president and chief executive officer, happened to be in the audience.
Fogel clearly liked what he heard, and that appreciation led to Osorio’s first recital in Orchestra Hall in February 1996 and, soon afterward, an engagement with the orchestra to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody” with guest conductor Christopher Wilkins.
“It’s a very competitive field,” the pianist said. “You need to be persistent, and I guess you need to be lucky. Like they say, sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right moment. Then, things start developing.”
Both of Osorio’s parents were musicians, and he listened to their recordings of the Chicago Symphony as a child. “I always thought I would love to play with this orchestra,” he said. “Somehow, it just caught my imagination. So, what a thrill it has been for me to fulfill that dream many times over.”
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.