During a typical subscription season, Symphony Center Presents invites stellar artists from all over the world to perform on its piano series, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made travel all but impossible in 2020-21.
That impediment, though, has not prevented the presenting arm of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association from functioning, albeit online. It has simply tapped the rich talent pool right in its hometown. The season’s first concert will showcase internationally acclaimed and Highland Park-based pianist Jorge Federico Osorio in a virtual, on-demand concert beginning Nov. 29 via the CSOtv video portal.
This was Osorio’s first concert since February, so he was thrilled to be back on stage, even if Orchestra Hall was all but empty during the recording due to coronavirus protocols. “I’ve been playing for years, and somehow, it just came back,” he said. “You just go on stage, you play, and you do your best. You know that the public wants to come back. We want the public to be there. So in my imagination, I played as if there was a full house listening to me. That hasn’t changed, the way you make music.”
Osorio grew up in Mexico City, leaving for piano studies in Paris at age 16 and later furthering his musical training in Moscow. In the early 1990s, he was based in London and playing mostly in Mexico and Europe when he performed a concert in San Antonio that Henry Fogel, then the CSOA’s president and chief executive officer, happened to attend.
Fogel liked what he heard, and that appreciation eventually led to Osorio’s first recital in Orchestra Hall in February 1996. Even though, as the pianist recalls, it was one of the coldest nights of that winter, there was still a large audience. “It was really fantastic, and since then, I have given a number of recitals there,” Osorio said. “I always love the public, and I love the hall. I think how you hear the piano on that stage, it’s very rewarding. I really enjoy it.”
Shortly thereafter, the pianist went on to make his first appearance with the orchestra, and he has returned regularly ever since. As a child, Osorio collected several recordings of the Chicago Symphony, including one with pianist Emil Gilels and conductor Fritz Reiner, and he dreamed of being onstage with the famous ensemble. “It’s something that strikes you,” he said. “You say, ‘One day I’m going to play with this orchestra.’ And it happened, and it’s wonderful.”
It’s not surprising, then, that the pianist moved to the Chicago area in 1998. In addition to teaching at Roosevelt University, Osorio performs an average of 30 concerts in a normal year, appearing with important ensembles such as the Royal Philharmonic, Orchestre Nationale de France and Philadelphia Orchestra.
Osorio’s most recent recording, titled simply “The French Album,” came out in August. It is his eighth release on the Chicago-based Cedille Records label, and most of them have followed a geographical theme, like Mexican or Russian music. “’The French Album’ — it just made sense to put it together like that,” he said.
In a review published in the October issue of Gramophone magazine, Jeremy Nicholas writes that Osorio’s playing has a “warmth and humanity that I found immensely appealing, From the first bars of Fauré’s Pavane, to quote the great Jorge Bolet, ‘You know you are in safe hands.’”
For Osorio’s virtual recital, he was asked him to keep the program to 50-55 minutes. He chose short works by Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados and Antonio Soler that he believes fit nicely together. “Many of these works I have played throughout the years in various recitals,” he said. “I have enjoyed it so much, so I thought I would make it like a trip, like a remembrance of my past experiences in Chicago with the wonderful public. It’s always interesting how one finds the right path for a recital.”
Although it might have been possible to approach this concert like an album recording session, redoing certain sections and making edits as necessary, Osorio was emphatic that this performance be treated like a regular live concert. In other words, what was recorded is what listeners will hear on Nov. 29.
“I thought of it as if I were coming to Orchestra hall to give a recital, I would just go on the stage and play,” he said. And that’s what I did. What I was aiming for and what I always aim for is a kind of freshness and to make a special moment that cannot be repeated.”