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Pianist Jorge Federico Osorio Talks Bard Festival, Carlos Chavez's Piano Concerto

First Posted: Jun 18, 2015 03:14 PM EDT
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Jorge Federico Osorio


In the next few weeks, Bard College will hold the annual Bard Music Festival, one that was founded in 1990 to promote new ways of understanding and presenting the history of music to a contemporary audience.

This year, the festival will turn to Latin America as it will showcase the work of Carlos Chavez, a composer who was a central figure in Mexico in the 20th Century.

One of the featured soloists of the festival will be Mexican pianist Jorge Federico Osorio, who will be playing the Chavez Piano Concerto.

Osorio has performed with many of the world's leading ensembles, including the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico; the Israel, Warsaw, and Royal Philharmonics. He has collaborated a number of great conductors including Bernard Haitink, Mariss Jansons, Lorin Maazel, Klaus Tennstedt, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos and James Conlon.

His appearance this year at the Bard Festival marks his first time at the festival. Osorio had a chance to speak to Latin Post about his preparation for the festival and about the Chavez Piano Concerto. 

Francisco Salazar: When did you discover the music of Carlos Chavez?

Jorge Federico Osorio: I discovered the Chavez Piano Concerto when I was an adolescent. I studied the piece throughout many months when I was 16 or 17 years old. I didn't play it then but I learned it. I was finally able to play it in the Festival Internacional Cervantino in 2001.

FS: What are the biggest challenges of the concerto since it is not the most recognized of pieces and it is not played often?

JFO: The concerto has formidable dimensions. It is a demanding work for Piano but also for the orchestra. The concerto was first heard in Carnegie Hall and it is a very polyphonic work. It is like a mural that represents the Mexican paintings by Diego Rivera or Rufino Tamayo. It is a work with a lot of rhythms, very expressive and sometimes rude. However, it has a lot of contrasts. There are very personal moments and dissonant moments. It also has a lot humorous moments. But the pulse and motor of the rhythms is challenging. What Carlos Chavez wrote in the beginning of the concerto is "cantando." This must always be maintained regardless of all the rhythmic and explosive music in the piece. It is not really a piano concerto where the orchestra accompanies the piano. You can never separate the orchestra from the piano. It is a complete work.

FS: How many times have you played this piece and where else have you done it?

JFO: I have played it various times and I have also recorded it twice. I recorded it with the orchestra Nacional de Mexico. The last time I played the piece was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and it was a huge hit. The musicians from the orchestra also enjoyed the experience because they had never heard it before since it is never programmed. This is what makes me very excited to play it at the Bard Festival.

FS: How do you maintain the fresh qualities to the concerto every time you play it?

JFO: I think as you evolve as a musician and a person, you begin to discover new things. This happens with every score you do. It is a process that never ends and every time you look for new things to make it more profound. Every time you try to make it more spontaneous and more direct.

FS: Since it is not heard that often, what do you hope New York audiences take away from your performance of the concerto?

JFO: It is the most famous Mexican concerto and it is not very well known. I am certain, however, that audiences will love it. My experience is that every time I play it, the audience enjoys it. It is an intense piece that is played non-stop since the movements are all connected.

FS: Do you think this piece could ever become part of the main repertoire?

JFO: Little by little. But I think it depends on us to play it more often. It is also up to the organizations to program it.

FS: Is it the first time you are playing at the Bard Festival? Who is the conductor you will be working with?

JFO: This is the first time I am playing at this festival. I am playing with Leon Botstein and it is the first time I am working with him. This will make the experience unique. Every single time I play this piece or another it is always different. This is what makes our career so enjoyable.

FS: I know you will be back at the Ravinia Festival to play Brahms. Can you tell me about your experience with this festival?

JFO: I have been playing with this festival for a number of years and I have a special relationship with it. I have played a number of great concerts. It was always my dream to play with the Chicago Symphony and I was able to play the five Beethoven Piano Concertos as well as a number of Mozart Piano Concertos and Brahms' first Concerto. I also did a number of recitals and the Schumann Piano Concerto.

FS: You will be collaborating with James Conlon. What is it like to work with him?

JFO: He has always been my conductor in Ravinia. It is so special because you get to know him so well and develop a great relationship after so many years.

FS: This is his last year at the festival. What distinguishes him as a great conductor and how has he influenced you in your music making?

JFO: What has always been exciting to play with Jimmy is that he is spontaneous. I remember the first time we played the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 and the way he began the tutti with the orchestra. It was volcanic and surprising. He gives me so much liberty to express and he is always with me. We make music together with so much energy and passion. And there is a lot of respect.

FS: When learning a piece, what is your process?

JFO: I think it is the same thing with every piece. Little by little you have to analyze the piece and you have to see the musical ideas and the important parts. The technical part is very important but when you are on stage people don't care about the technique. They want to see the music that is being made. You want to project the work with spontaneity and energy. It has to be something alive and new that will motivate.

FS: Do you think it is important to have a varied repertoire?

JFO: I think it is important but it is not about playing different pieces. For example, the Chavez Concerto was a long process and it requires a lot. I think it is more important to look at the quality of the music you are playing.

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