Eugenia Moliner is a flutist who forms one half of the globetrotting Cavatina Duo. Denis Azabagiac, one of the world’s elite classical guitarists, is her partner in life as well as art. Their 2-year-old son Alexander completes the family unit.
Moliner and Azabagiac have survived bloody conflicts, refugee status and the music industry’s knee-jerk reaction to push them into a career of playing cocktail parties while more traditional instrumental pairings play the world stage. They’ve also found a home in Forest Park.
“We are living our dreams now,” Moliner said.
“Home” has been an allusive place for Azabagiac, who fled war-torn Bosnia to avoid being drafted into combat. As a political refugee, Azabagiac sought asylum in the Netherlands.
“I spent six years in the Netherlands,” Azabagiac said, “but I never felt welcome there.”
Moliner had also made her way to Holland in 1991, from her home in Valencia, Spain. Like Azabagiac, she studied music at the Rotterdam Conservatory. Her interest in music was first sparked when she was 15 years old and a neighbor invited her to join the village band. Moliner started out playing trumpet but soon switched to the flute.
“When my teacher gave me my flute,” Moliner said, “I knew it was my life.”
Azabagiac had chosen the guitar when he was 5 years old. Like many young guitarists, he was influenced by the Beatles and wanted to become a guitar god.
“I thought it would be fantastic to get together a group of friends and start a band,” Azabagiac said.
His guitar teacher, however, steered him toward the classics.
Azabagiac was 18 years old when war started in the former Yugoslavia.
“It’s a human ambition to conquer,” he said of conflict. “Religion is just an excuse.”
The civil war found some of Azabagiac’s friends fighting for Croatia against Bosnia. His father, a chemist, was assigned to work at a munitions plant and later died of lung cancer that may have been caused by contact with toxic chemicals used at the plant.
The two conservatory students finally met when friends invited them to a Dutch jazz club called Dizzy.
“It was love of music that brought us together,” Moliner said.
They are a complimentary couple: Moliner is the dreamer and idealist in need of grounding. Azabagiac is practical but requires a push now and then.
“This causes tension in our relationship, but also enhances our interconnectedness,” Moliner said.
The couple further connected when they commenced their concert career in 1993. Meanwhile, as a soloist, Azabagiac made a name for himself at international guitar competitions. He collected 24 awards, along with a number of cash prizes. The money gave the couple a nest egg to launch their first European concert tour in 1996.
Guitar and flute is not an unusual combination but it is one that has been taken lightly in classical music circles. Moliner complained that guitar/flute duos were often consigned to play background music. The couple’s goal from the beginning was to elevate their art form while expanding the repertoire. This led Azabagiac to revisit his homeland after the war to commission Balkan composers to create music for the duo. Ethnic tensions were still simmering in Bosnia and Azabagiac was on edge in what had been familiar surroundings.
In 1997, the couple was invited to study music at Indiana University. When Azabagiac arrived in the U.S., he finally found a country where he felt welcome. However, the couple felt isolated in Bloomington.
“We were on an island in a cornfield,” Moliner said.
The following year, Azabagiac won first prize at a competition in Montreal. His winnings included a six-month 60 concert tour.
Moliner said the deal earned her husband a wealth of exposure and helped him make a number of important industry contacts. One of these contacts became the duo’s manager.
They performed all kinds of music, from Mozart to Argentinean tango. They also explored folk music, crossing over into world music.
“It’s magical when your fingers respond,” Azabagiac said. “You transcend your surroundings as you master a musical language.”
Still, performing for the public was stressful. Even the late Luciano Pavarotti confessed that “each performance is an exam.”
The couple practiced four to five hours per day and began releasing CDs. So far, Cavatina Duo has produced three albums, while Azabagiac and Moliner have each released several solo albums.
In 1999, the couple came to Chicago. With two international airports, the city served as a perfect home base for their far-flung performances. As much as they loved the city the couple had heard, from a friend in Bosnia no less, of a desirable suburb called Oak Park. They liked the location but when it came time to put down roots they moved to Forest Park.
“We needed more space,” Moliner said. “We wanted a townhouse and Forest Park was an up and coming community.”
After two years in town, Alexander was born. Moliner felt blessed to live so close to the park and the pool. But as much as they enjoyed their home life, traveling with a young child proved to be very challenging.
“Imagine taking a 30 hour flight to Taiwan with a 2 year old,” Moliner said.
Having a child completely changed their perspective and now they treasure times when they can perform locally. They gave a concert at Unity Temple but made their biggest splash last March when they performed in the “Rising Star” series at Ravinia. The Cavatina Duo received ecstatic reviews.
When they return from their next European tour, the couple hopes to perform at a Forest Park venue, like the House Red wine shop. This will give other Forest Parkers a chance to hear the sounds that their neighbor Mark Rogovin has been enjoying for months.
“Coming from their little home is this gorgeous music,” Rogovin said. “And when they’re not playing, they are beautiful parents.”
Just for the record, Rogovin’s favorite performances that come wafting through the hallways of the townhouse are of Beethoven and the Mambo Kings.