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Papal Concert
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Left: Maestro Gilbert Levine and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Center: The London Philharmonic Choir, Krakow Philharmonic Choir, the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir (Turkey) and members of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.

Right: Pope John Paul II and mezzo soprano Birgit Remmert



Maestro Gilbert Levine conducts historic performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony - The first American orchestra to perform at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II

PITTSBURGH, PA – To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s elevation to pontiff and his lifelong commitment to interfaith understanding and outreach of the Abrahamic faiths (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), the Pittsburgh Symphony accepted an invitation from world-renowned conductor Maestro Gilbert Levine to perform for His Holiness on January 17, 2004 in the Paul the VI Auditorium at the Vatican. The 90 minute television special, titled “A Celebration of Faiths: The Papal Concert of Reconciliation,” is underwritten by a generous grant from the Knights of Columbus.

Produced in association with and distributed by WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh, the reconciliation theme is celebrated with the participation of Jewish, Christian and Muslim dignitaries from around the world. “We have an opportunity to bring people of all religions closer together through the universal language of music and the powerful mass medium of television,” said Robert Petrilli, senior vice president and chief operating officer at WQED. “We have planned several multimedia events, including a commemorative DVD/VHS keepsake, around the historic concert.”

The television program will be distributed to PBS stations across the United States of America beginning April 2004, in time for the Easter and Passover observance.
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The official Vatican invitation issued via Sir Gilbert Levine to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra read, “This initiative has assumed a special significance in view of the current world context. The event entrusts to the powerful efficacy of music the commitment to reconciliation that all the children of Abraham – Jews, Christians and Muslims – must embrace with conviction.”

Under the artistic direction of Maestro Levine, John Harbison, one of America’s most prominent composers, was commissioned to write a choral work, “Abraham,” based on text from Genesis to open the concert program. This world premiere is sung by a massed chorus including members of the London Philharmonic Choir, Krakow Philharmonic Choir, the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir (Turkey) and members of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. Maestro Levine selected Mahler’s Second Symphony, “The Resurrection,” as the centerpiece of the concert.

The concert was initiated through Jewish-American born Maestro Levine, a major creative force in the orchestral world. Maestro Levine was recently profiled on the CBS program, “60 Minutes,” who branded him the “Pope’s Maestro.” He has conducted many of the top European orchestras at the Vatican for the past 15 years. Maestro Levine insisted on featuring an American orchestra for this Vatican concert because “there is no country that better represents a society of tolerance.” He personally chose the Pittsburgh Symphony to represent the “great American culture” abroad, stating, “This is truly a great orchestra with a central European tradition second to none.”

"While religion is sadly invoked as a cause for war and conflict,” remarked Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, “this concert eloquently reminds us that religion, ethnicity and geography need not be barriers to mutual understanding, respect and peace. Rather, it reminds us that there is so much more that unites us.”

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