Russian Orchestra Is Music to the Pope's Ears

State Orchestra Performs at Castel Gandolfo

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 9, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Sometimes music can be a bridge over troubled ecumenical waters.



In recent months, Rome and Orthodox Moscow have had difficult relations, in the wake of the Catholic resurgence in Russian lands. Two Catholic priests and a bishop have been expelled.

But on Sunday that didn't keep the Russian State Symphonic Orchestra, directed by Valery Gergiev, from performing before John Paul II. The orchestra performed along with UNESCO's Children's Choir and the Academy of Arts Choir, both directed by Victor Popov.

When Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow learned that this extraordinary expression of Russian art and culture would be exhibited before John Paul II, he sent a message to the Pope.

John Paul II returned the gesture, speaking highly of the Russian Orthodox leader, in the presence of the artists.

The concert was held in the courtyard of the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. The Pope described it as a "thought-provoking musical evening" and an opportunity to emphasize the role of music as a bridge between peoples and cultures.

In his address delivered in Russian at the end of the concert, John Paul II encouraged this type of initiative to "spread the human and spiritual values that constitute the indispensable base of any authentic moral, civil and cultural progress."

Russian government representatives attended the concert, including Medvedev Dimitry, an official in President Vladimir Putin's administration. Also present was Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

"It is a very hopeful sign," Cardinal Kasper said after the concert. "We have been able to see that there is very great culture in Russia, as well as a great Christian religious tradition. And we need this bond."

The musical passages -- interpreted with "extraordinary talent," according to the Pope -- offered a range of emotions from Verdi to Vivaldi, and included Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo.

The evening ended with the notes of the "Lacrymosa" of Mozart's Requiem No. 7, performed by soprano Angela Gheorghiu and tenor Roberto Alagna.

"To sing for His Holiness has been a great honor and a great emotion," Alagna said. "I must admit that I was surprised by the light one sees in his look. He has impressed me profoundly. I feel really privileged. This evening has been mystical: a holy evening."