View Gallery

Athens is the site of the opening concert of the 23rd annual Roads of Friendship, a music initiative established by Italy’s Ravenna Festival to build bonds among nations afflicted by war, natural disasters or political conflict. The Roads of Friendship promotes the power of music to lift the human spirit. “It’s a universal message,” said Riccardo Muti, Zell Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Music performs miracles that often those who govern can not do.”

This year’s program consists of two performances, both conducted by Muti — first in Athens on July 9 at the historic Odeon of Herodes Atticus and to be repeated July 11 at the Ravenna Festival — of Beethoven’s massive Symphony No. 9 (Ode to Joy), with its enduring message of universal brotherhood. For these performances Muti joins more than 200 musicians from the combined forces of the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, the Athens State Orchestra, Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra, City of Athens Symphony Orchestra, City of Athens Philharmonic, ERT National Symphony Orchestra and Choir, Choir of the Municipality of Athens and Coro Costanzo Porta. The vocal soloists for this program are soprano Maria Mudryak, mezzo-soprano Anastasia Boldyreva, tenor Luciano Ganci and bass Evgeny Stavinsky. The Athens concert is part of Tempo Forte Italia-Greece 2019, a cultural exchange initiative of the Italian Embassy in Athens.

For the last 23 years, the Roads of Friendship initiative has traveled the world, beginning in war-torn Sarajevo in 1997, continuing on to New York City in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks and last year in Kiev, Ukraine, under military encroachment since 2014 by Russia. “Athens is a city where the aim of our project is fully realized, especially if we consider the moments of crisis Greece has been through recently, and the similar problems Italy is facing right now,” Muti said. “In addition, both Greece and Italy are fundamental countries in the Western world, due to their inestimable contribution to Western thought, art and philosophy over the centuries. We cannot forget that the most perfect and harmonious expression of democracy was born in Greece.”

The same musicians, choristers and vocal soloists travel to Italy to perform the Ninth Symphony at the Palazzo Mauro de André as part of the Ravenna Festival. Founded by Cristina Mazzavillani Muti, the Ravenna Festival is celebrating its 30th season with the theme “On the High and Open Sea,” based on a verse from Dante Alighieri, and a salute to the city’s ancient maritime past.

“On each of our trips, we ask musicians from local orchestras and choirs to join our team; these musicians, sharing the same music stand, may have nothing in common but music, yet they can express the same idea, the same concept,” Riccardo Muti said. “As I often repeat, the performing of music is a symbol of democratic co-existence, where each performer plays his part while listening to and respecting the others’ parts; they all aim at the best result and contribute to what we could call the greater good.”

TOP: Riccardo Muti conducts a combined 200-member ensemble in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the historic Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens as part of this year’s Road to Friendship concerts. | Photo: ©Silvia Lelli