We have world class musicians living among us and sometimes they need our support. Cavatina Duo is internationally acclaimed in the world of classical music. The duo consists of Eugenia Moliner, who plays flute, and her husband, Denis Azabagic, on guitar. They had lived in Forest Park 10 years but now make their home in River Forest. They are working on their boldest project yet.

It began about 20 years ago in Denis’ native country of Bosnia. Eugenia was chatting with Denis’ great aunt, when the older relative suddenly shifted to an archaic form of Spanish. No one in the family knew the great aunt spoke Spanish and that her Spanish name was Matilda. 

It turns out Matilda was descended from Spain’s Sephardic Jews, who were expelled from their homes in the 15th century and scattered to various parts of the world. Matilda’s family settled in Tuzla, in what is now Bosnia. 

At the beginning of World War II, Matilda and her family converted from Judaism to Islam to escape Nazi persecution. They were one of only two Jewish families to survive the war in Tuzla.

Eugenia was not only entranced by Matilda’s story, she could personally relate to it. When the theocracy of Spain had expelled Jews, they gave them three choices. Leave and live, stay and die or convert to Catholicism. Based on her family names, it’s apparent that Eugenia’s ancestors took them when they converted from Judaism to Christianity.

These incredible coincidences motivated Eugenia and Denis to embark on their “Sephardic Journey.” They wanted to revive the ancient melodies that have been lost for 500 years and incorporate them into new classical pieces. This was a daunting and very expensive task, but the duo received some unexpected help.

They had just finished playing a Sephardic song in Highland Park, when a stranger overheard them talking about the project. He asked, “How much money do you need?” 

Eugenia told him the amount and the man assured her, “OK, you have that.” 

The duo became the recipients of astonishing generosity, as donors stepped up to finance the compositions for $40,000. 

An array of composers used Sephardic melodies to create five pieces of music that total 76 minutes in length. To make the project even more special, the duo invited Oak Park-based Avalon Quartet and two members of the Lincoln Trio to join them.

After adding strings, they approached Jim Ginsburg, CEO of Cedille Records, a nonprofit label that promotes Chicago’s classical artists. (He’s also the son of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). They had already recorded for Jim, and he agreed to record the Sephardic music, without hearing a note.

I was privileged to be among the first to hear one of the new recordings. The music was lively, folky and jazzy by turns. It was, of course, beautifully played. It was a thrill to hear brand new classical music and to think of how the melodies had survived 500 years. Denis likened it to a “dormant seed that blooms again.”

The Cavatina Duo and their colleagues will perform the world premiere of “Sephardic Journey” at Ravinia on March 12, 2016. 

Only one piece of the project remains. They want to hire a publicist to make sure the music receives the audience it deserves. They began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $7,500 by Nov. 5. 

If you’d like to help, you can find the website by clicking here. Visiting the site will give you the privilege of hearing the haunting melodies of a people who long ago lost everything but their language, culture and music. 

 John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.