Tehran might seem to be an unlikely place for a concert led by Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and former music director of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala. But for 20 years, through the Paths of Friendship project of Italy’s Ravenna Festival, Muti has conducted concerts in locales afflicted by hardships or political tensions. Paths of Friendship concerts have been presented in cities such as Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul and Sarajevo, with the latest one in Tehran on July 6.

After returning from Tehran, Muti was interviewed for the Financial Times by contributor George Loomis, at his home in Ravenna, where he lives with his wife, Cristina Mazzavillani Muti, president of the Ravenna Festival and a major force behind the Paths of Friendship. “Music that brings a message of love and friendship can do more than diplomats,” Muti said. “I don’t try to analyze the particular situation — I’m a musician, not a politician.”

Given the success of the Iran concert, presented jointly with the Tehran Symphony Orchestra, and a second performance July 8 with Iranian musicians at the Ravenna Festival, Muti hopes the collaboration will spur new interest by Iranians in their cultural heritage. “The new president, Hassan Rouhani, has an open vision toward culture, which is so important in the country’s history,” he said.

Next month at the Salzburg Festival, Muti will lead Verdi’s Aida in a production directed by the New York-based visual artist and Iranian-born filmmaker Shirin Neshat. This Aida will stress “intimacy, not the Egypt of postcards,” Muti said. “Aida is about people from different cultures, religions and societies — just what we’ve been talking about [in the Paths of Friendship concerts].”

Meanwhile, Muti hopes another trip to Iran might be in the future: “I want to take the Chicago Symphony to Tehran. … If Iran took musicians from Italy, why not [from America]? This is one of the world’s greatest orchestras and — yes, I’ll say it — the best one in the United States!”

To read the full article (subscription required), click here.

TOP: Riccardo Muti leads a Paths of Friendship concert July 8 at the Ravenna Festival. | Photo: ©Silvia Lelli