Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was invited to conduct two concerts as part of the first-ever G7 Culture Summit on March 30-31 in Florence, Italy. “It is an honor for me and these musicians to join the G7 for culture,” said Muti before a private concert for summit participants at the Palazzo Vecchio with the Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. “Culture is the foundation of society. On this still not enough has been done.”

Muti’s advocacy for the arts and their potential to foster cultural and social change was well aligned with the mission of the summit, which focused on issues related to the protection of cultural heritage, combating the trafficking of artistic and historic items, and the use of culture as an instrument of dialogue among different peoples and nations.

Muti pointed out the role music has played in social and political history in Italy specifically. “Between 1800 and 1900, the Italian composers helped to unite Europe. … They had great influence and were really the first sign of a united Europe.” He went on to describe how musicians regularly stand for peace. He also noted that when dictators often silence artists and limit forms of artistic expression when they come to power. “Tonight, on the contrary, we speak and make music from the city that was the cradle of the Renaissance,” he said. “This is a great message of hope.”

After sharing his thoughts, Muti led the orchestra in a performance of Rossini’s William Tell Overture and Brahms’ Second Symphony. The following evening, Muti led the Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in a public concert at the Opera di Firenze. This performance also included Verdi’s Stabat Mater.

“Every work of art is a free expression of the soul and goes beyond the political, even if it is abused by the powerful,” said Muti in an interview before the summit. “I have always fought for the liberty of expression.”

Additional materials: an English translation of Valerio Cappelli’s interview with Riccardo Muti for Corriere della Sera.

Video of concert excerpts from the March 30 performance at the Palazzo Vecchio.