Originally created 01/17/04

Pope promotes music for lofty goals



VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II is putting his love for music to work as he pursues one of his cherished goals - reconciliation among Christians, Jews and Muslims.

The Vatican will play host on Saturday to American conductor Gilbert Levine and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra for a concert to promote solidarity among people of diverse faiths in a world ridden with violence often waged in the name of religion.

Invited for the world debut of American composer John Harbison's choral "Abraham," and other selections are leading Christian, Jewish and Muslim representatives. Among those expected to attend are Israel's two chief rabbis.

The Vatican has said the musical evening is intended "to promote the commitment for a peaceful coexistence among all the children of Abraham," the biblical patriarch.

"The Holy Father has an interest in music and views it as a means of unifying people," said Archbishop John P. Foley, an American who heads the Vatican's social communications office. "He loves to sing himself."

Among those performing will be the Ankara State Polyphonic Choir from Turkey, a predominantly Muslim nation.

Levine, a Jew who has been dubbed the "pope's maestro" for conducting several top European orchestras at the Vatican since the 1980s, says the concert also pays tribute to John Paul's 25th anniversary as pontiff.

A New Yorker of Polish origin, Levine conducted an 80th birthday serenade to the pontiff at the Vatican in 2000, leading a rendition of Haydn's "Creation," a work that depicts the start of the universe by the common God of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The friendship between Levine and the pope dates to 1987, when the American was the principal conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra in that Polish city, where John Paul had served as cardinal before his election to the papacy in 1978.

Ten years ago, he became the fourth Jew in history to be awarded a high papal honor, the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great.

Although the muscle stiffness that marks Parkinson's disease can make singing difficult, John Paul, a bass, still hums along with songs at Vatican ceremonies. Many times he has sung a few bars, including holiday carols with pilgrims from his native Poland.

When he was younger and more agile, John Paul would often tap his feet to music or nod along in evident pleasure, including at the thumping beats at youth jamborees.

Foley told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the pope's love of music was clear from the start of his pontificate.

Shortly after assuming the papacy, John Paul went up to some cardinals sitting at a dinner table and suggested they join him in singing a Polish folk song, a sign of nostalgia for the land where he loved to hike and ski.

The opening lines of the song go: "Highlander, aren't you regretting? Highlander, come back. The highlander is looking at the mountains and wiping a tear with his sleeve."

Enjoying a performance by religious choral groups last fall at the Vatican, John Paul praised music for bringing cheer to life.

The U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, James Nicholson, called the three faiths' involvement in the concert "an expression of the solidarity that we are seeking among those faiths."

The Pittsburgh Symphony's performance will be the first by an American orchestra at the Vatican. Among concert selections are Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2, "Resurrection."

On the Net:

Vatican concert: http://www.papal-concert-of-reconciliation.com

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra: http://www.pittsburghsymphony.org