Jorge Federico Osorio knows firsthand the power of classical music to move young minds and hearts.
"Many years ago I was playing a concert in a church in the Mexican city of Leon," the Mexican-born, Highland Park-based pianist recalls. "When I began playing the Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto, I noticed this boy had approached the piano. He stood almost next to me for the entire performance, listening to the music very intently. I thought, 'My goodness, I have to play well – such a responsibility!'
"About 12 years later, I was giving some master classes at the University of Guanajuato, near Leon, and a young man who had enrolled in one of the classes – I was told he was one of the star pupils – came up to me. He told me, 'I was that little boy.'
"So you never know who you are going to reach! As a musician you do whatever you have to do, as long as you do it with great respect for the music. Those experiences can be so important, so touching, so meaningful, especially for the young." Education and exposure, he adds, are crucial when it comes to exciting young people to make classical music a part of their lives.
Osorio has been moving listeners – of all ages – throughout the world in the course of a career that's been going strong for the better part of his 62 years. On Sunday afternoon he will return to Orchestra Hall for a recital that includes Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition"; Brahms' "Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel"; barcaroles by Albeniz, Castro and Tchaikovsky; and sonatas by the Spanish Baroque composer Antonio Soler.
The Chicago-based Cedille Records has just released his recording of Mexican composer Carlos Chavez's big, virtuosic Piano Concerto (1938-1940), which he is scheduled to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in December.
"I've put a lot of effort into studying this piece ever since hearing it for the first time when I was a teenager," Osorio says. "It grew on me, and I came to realize it is perhaps the most important piano concerto to come out of Mexico."
For the last 15 years Osorio and his wife, Sylvana, have lived in Highland Park, just a stone's throw from Ravinia. The pianist remains a regular presence at the summer festival, where he demonstrated his classical prowess with the Beethoven piano concerto cycle he presented there in 2010. He is scheduled to return to the CSO's summer home in July to perform the Schumann Piano Concerto under James Conlon.
Having lived for extended periods in New York, Mexico City and London before settling in the Chicago area in 1998, the pianist says the cultural advantages that first attracted him and his wife to the city are what keeps them here to this day – that, and Chicago's proximity to Mexico and other places where he performs regularly.
"I always felt Chicago was the right place for us," says Osorio, a member of the piano faculty of Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts for the last six years. "It's a very exciting city culturally – the symphony, opera, museums, chamber music, everything that goes around. I've had some fantastic seasons here.
"And I really love teaching. I've limited myself to a small group of students, so that I can really give them (the time and attention) they need."
No pianist of international stature has championed Mexican piano music with as much dedication as Osorio. His duty as a traveling ambassador for Mexican musical culture has something to do with that, he says, "but you also have to play things you really care about and are convinced about." For Cedille he has recorded several albums of piano works by Mexican composers, including a lightweight but charming collection of parlor pieces, "Salon Mexicano," which appeared last year.
Nor does Osorio shy away from contemporary Mexican music. In June he will give the world premiere of a piano concerto written for and dedicated to him by Mexican composer Alexis Aranda, with the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico under Carlos Miguel Prieto.
"Being Mexican myself and knowing there are so many fine pieces of Mexican music out there, I feel I must try to give them the exposure they deserve," he says. "We pianists are spoiled by the wealth of (mainstream) repertory available to us, but one has to remain curious and enthusiastic about other music as well."
Given the unique repertory niche Osorio has carved out for himself, and the elegant command he brings to his performances, there seems little doubt his career will continue to flourish.
"Many places (on the concert circuit) want me back – that's always a good sign," he says. "There are many plans, many things happening, at this point in my career; and I'm really excited about that. The dedication, passion and love I have for what I do will, I trust, always be there."
Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio will appear in recital at 3 p.m. Sunday at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave.; $19-$77; 312-294-3000, cso.org.
Music Institute moves downtown
The North Shore-based Music Institute of Chicago will expand its campus network to include a new educational facility at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 N. Chestnut St., in the North Michigan Avenue area. Plans are for the new MIC campus to open in September within the church's new Gratz Center. It will provide music lessons and classes for children and adults, supplementing MIC's programs in the Chicago public schools.
The music institute also has announced it will close its campus in Highland Park this summer and expand its facilities at the Grove Cultural Campus in Lake Forest to offer lessons, classes, chamber music and performance opportunities for students of all ages.
WFMT launches 'Exploring Music' archive
The audio archives of the WFMT Radio Network's internationally syndicated music appreciation series, "Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin," soon will be available on a subscription website. Beginning Monday, subscribers will be able to search and stream more than 500 hours of programs that have been broadcast during the last 10 years. About 850 segments of the daily, one-hour program have been produced to date, and more will be added to the website, exploringmusic.org, each week, according to the show's executive producer, Steve Robinson, network general manager.
Weekly, monthly and yearly subscriptions will be available – ranging from $2 to $50 – which will allow listener access to everything from a week's worth of five hourlong shows to an unlimited number of programs during a 12-month period. Music schools and colleges may also purchase institutional subscriptions.
Subscription revenue will help fund the website and the production of new episodes.
"Exploring Music," which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is one of the most popular shows produced by WFMT FM 98.7, airing on 55 stations to a weekly audience of more than 400,000 listeners, says Robinson.
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