International Influences


The classical talent from Mexico keeps coming. A few months ago, the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional played at the Performing Arts Center under the sponsorship of the Philharmonic Society.

Next up, pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, a native of Mexico City now living in Chicago, will play with the Pacific Symphony on Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Like his orchestral compatriots, Osorio exhibits a cosmopolitanism that will surprise only those unaware of the breadth of culture in the sunny country to the south.

Osorio will play Rachmaninoff’s knuckle-breaking “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” and if earlier reports hold true, he will reflect a unique blend of French and Russian-style pianism that he worked years to attain.

“When I was 17, I left [Mexico] to study in Paris,” Osorio, 48, said in a recent phone interview from his suburban Chicago home. “I spent two years there, and after that, I went to Moscow for two years to study at the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. To choose your teacher is so important. It is such a personal thing.”


His first teacher, however, selected him: that was his mother, a classical pianist who still teaches. His father, who died two years ago, was a violinist with the National Symphony. He later went into politics through his work with the musicians’ union.

“I started both instruments when I was 5,” Osorio said. “I really decided on the piano when I was 11.”

Musical Immersion Throughout the Years

Osorio was the second of four children but the only one to become a musician. (An older brother played violin for many years but went into engineering. One of his two younger sisters became a teacher; the other went into business.)

When he was 13, he won the Juventudes Musicales, a competition in Mexico for young musicians. Then he started giving recitals and concerts.

“There was a lot of encouragement, especially when I entered the conservatory. It was a wonderful atmosphere. Excellent teachers, many concerts. More or less at that age, I very strongly knew what I wanted to do.”

When he was 17, he fell under the spell of French pianist Bernard Flavigny, who came to Mexico City every year to give master classes.

“He was a wonderful teacher, so I went to study in Paris with him.”


“His sound. That’s what we work with. I work at it every day,” he said. “It’s such an important thing. Sometimes it’s neglected. [Flavigny] combined a lot of the French school and the old Russian school. He was quite special in that respect.

“That’s what also led me to go to Moscow, because I always admired pianists like Rachmaninoff and Emil Gilels. All that wonderful tone and the ease with which they played.”

To elaborate: “In Russian style, everything is so natural. The sound is very rich and very cantabile. The French style is a bit more precieux [precious].

“Take Alfred Cortot: His playing is pure poetry. Yes, he made mistakes, but it really didn’t matter,” he said. “I’d still rather listen to his recordings than many other pianists.”

Other pianists he admires include Wilhelm Kempff, with whom he studied later in Italy, Artur Schnabel, Claudio Arrau and Van Cliburn.

Osorio continues the musical tradition in his own family. He married his childhood sweetheart, pianist Sylvana Lopez, daughter of Mexican music critic Marina Lopez, in 1976. They have two children--Dario, 15, who plays percussion, and Santiago, 8, who plays violin.

“We’ve always been adventuresome,” he said. “We lived in New York, moved to Mexico, then London, then to Chicago.”

After living in London for 11 years, Osorio and his family moved to Chicago about a year ago.

“I was very busy in Mexico,” he said. “But it made it more practical for my career when we moved to London. At that time, there were many things happening in Europe, and we always wanted to go. We decided, let’s do it now. Otherwise, we’ll get settled and won’t want to move around.”

The move to Chicago also was practical.

“There’s a very intense musical life and theater and more or less I can also concentrate on my career,” he said. “I go quite often to Mexico and also play here and in Europe.”

Immediately after his Pacific Symphony date, Osorio returns to Chicago to play Manuel Ponce’s Piano Concerto with the Grant Park Festival Orchestra in the Grant Park Festival. He has recorded the Ponce concerto as well as another compact disc of Ponce’s piano music.

In September, he will appear for the first time accompanying Mexican tenor Francisco Araiza in a recital in Mexico City.

After that, he goes to the Festival Cervantino in Guanajuato to play Carlos Chavez’s Piano Concerto as part of festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Mexican composer.

Of the “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” Osorio said that he knows the composer’s own recording, but “you can’t just try to copy it.”

“Rachmaninoff’s pianism is so staggering. But he doesn’t go over the borders of good taste,” he said. “But we have just one performance of how he played it. He might have played it very differently on another day.

“I really love this repertoire,” Osorio added. “Many of the so-called ‘warhorses’ are such wonderful works. What is very important is that all these works should sound fresh and spontaneous, and that is something I always aim at.”

* Jorge Federico Osorio will be the piano soloist in Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” with the Pacific Symphony led by Carl St.Clair on Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Drive. Also on the program: Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol. $14-$57. (714) 755-5799.