On the Fly: Jorge Federico Osorio Made Highland Park the Home of His International Career

By Dorothy Andries

Jorge Federico Osorio is a classical artist with an international career. Born in Mexico, he could make his home anywhere. Yet after living in New York City for seven years, followed by London for another 11, he chose Highland Park, IL, to be the place where he and his wife, Sylvana, put down their roots and raised their two sons, Dario and Santiago.

Among the city’s attractive amenities were superior public schools, and, of course, its proximity to O’Hare International Airport, minus the noise. The location was particularly fortunate last February when Osorio flew to Atlanta on one day’s notice to replace Peter Serkin with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1. (Ravinia fans will remember his two stellar performances of the work in the festival’s Pavilion, in 2008 and 2015, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.)

But who knew one of the greatest pleasures he mentions about living in the North Shore city of nearly 30,000 residents would also be the Landmark Renaissance Cinema on Second Street? “We love movies,” he said, “especially the interesting ones that come to the Landmark.” [It was recently one of only two theaters in the Chicago area to show Music of Strangers, the new documentary about Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble created by the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind 20 Feet from Stardom—the Silk Road ensemble itself will make its first return to Ravinia on August 16.] He also spoke highly of the Park District of Highland Park’s Recreation Center on Park Avenue.

“It will be 18 years this summer that we moved here,” Osorio said, seated in his living room, which accommodates two grand pianos. “I bought this house before my wife saw it. That was risky, I know. But this has really become home for us.”

A series of fortunate events led to this selection. Henry Fogel, then president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, heard Osorio play with the San Antonio Symphony in 1992. He mentioned the Mexican pianist’s superb performance to Robert Levin of Highland Park, who after working as operations manager at the CSO had returned to his prior career in artist management. Levin contacted Osorio in London and the pianist sent him recordings, plus news of an upcoming performance in the fall of 1993 with the Pasadena Symphony, conducted by Jorge Mester.

Levin, who had played violin the in the Aspen Chamber Orchestra for several summers under Mester, decided to fly out to Pasadena and hear the concert for himself.

“It was a thrilling performance,” he recalled, adding that afterward he and Osorio went out to dinner. “Just the two of us,” he explained, adding that they clicked immediately. “We talked about some of my favorite pianists and we both decided, right then and there, to work together.”

Several years later, when Osorio was going from London to Mexico to play some concerts there, he came through O’Hare and stopped in Highland Park for three days. “Sylvana and I had heard much about the schools in the area,” the pianist said, “and Robert arranged a real estate agent to take me around.” Thus came about the quick purchase of the house, sight unseen by Sylvana.

Once the family settled in, they quickly became familiar with the Highland Park Public Library, well-regarded not only for an outstanding collection of books, but also for its nearly 12,000 compact discs. (Sylvana has been on the library staff since 2000 and was appointed manager of film and music services two years later.)

The pianist, who grew up in a land of perpetual summer, mentioned the change of seasons as one of the pleasures of living in Highland Park. “I also like to be close to the water,” he said, citing Highland Park beaches as another bonus.

Deep in his history, however, lies another attraction for the area. “I always loved the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” he said. “I’d listen to their recordings with (conductor) Fritz Reiner when I was a child. I always dreamed of playing with that orchestra.” He spoke also of the recordings the CSO made with Ukrainian-born pianist Emil Gilels, one of the very few Soviet musicians allowed to travel to the West in the 1950s.

Osorio was raised in a musical household, and his mother Luz Maria Puente, a revered teacher in Mexico and concert pianist, gave him his first piano lessons. “She’s 92 years old and still giving recitals,” he said, with obvious pride.

His youthful dream to play with the CSO has come true many times over. One notable event came during the summer of 2010 when, over two consecutive evenings, he played all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos with the orchestra at Ravinia. And in December 2013, Osorio took part in the orchestra’s premiere of Carlos Chavez’s Piano Concerto with Miguel Harth-Bedoya on the podium at Symphony Center. He has recorded that work twice, most recently with the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México and Carlos Miguel Prieto for Cedille Records.

 “Jim Ginsburg does exceptional recordings,” Osorio said of the label’s founder, who since 1989 has been dedicated to producing high-quality classical recordings with outstanding musicians from Chicago. Now the only Chicago-based classical label, Cedille has a catalog tracking more than a quarter century of classical music-making in the Windy City. In addition to the Chavez concerto, Osorio has recorded piano music by fellow countryman Manuel M. Ponce; an all-Russian disc with works by Prokofiev and Shostakovich, as well as Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; a recital of music by Liszt and Debussy; and the albums Salon Mexicano, featuring works by Castro, Villanueva, Ponce, and José Rolón, and Piano Español, with pieces by Falla, Albeniz, Granados, and Padre Antonio Soler.

He is about to make his seventh CD with Cedille Records, comprising the final piano works of Brahms and Schubert: Brahms’s sets of piano miniatures, opp. 116–19, and Schubert’s A-major and B-flat-major sonatas. His Ravinia recital July 25 includes a sample of these venerable masterworks, namely the bookend collections of those Brahms miniatures and Schubert’s last sonata, the B-flat. And on April 1 of next year, Osorio will give a recital on the Skyline Piano Artist Series in Northwestern University’s sparkling new Mary Galvin Hall.

As an audience member as well as a performer, Osorio relishes Ravinia and the summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, plus other classical attractions. Here he developed a durable connection with James Conlon, who last summer concluded his association with the festival and is beginning his first season as principal conductor of Italy’s RAI National Symphony Orchestra, with which the maestro has engaged him for an encore performance of Brahms’s Concerto No. 1.

Just before that, Osorio flies to Rio de Janeiro, then goes to São Paulo, where he will perform Ginastera’s Concerto No. 1 with the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo under the direction of Carlos Miguel Prieto.

Did he mention part of Highland Park’s charm was its proximity to O’Hare International Airport?


Dorothy Andries is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts and classical music.

Purchase tickets for Osorio's July 25 recital at Ravinia.org