From Italy, Muti looks to reopen US classical music scene

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Italian Maestro Riccardo Muti, top center, prepares to direct a concert at the Ravenna Festival, in Ravenna, Northern Italy, Sunday, June 21, 2020. Riccardo Muti has sent a resounding message that live classical music has returned the Italian stage after the coronavirus lockdown with a full summer festival program in his adopted Ravenna. (AP Photo/Colleen Barry)

RAVENNA – Conducting a joyful Mozart motet, Riccardo Muti sent a resounding message Sunday night, that live classical music has returned to the Italian stage after the coronavirus lockdown.

A full summer festival program is planned in his adopted home of Ravenna, even as the musical outlook remains grim in the United States, where he also conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The 78-year-old renowned conductor said the coronavirus had ‘’destroyed music,’’ with shuttered venues depriving the world of ‘’spiritual food’’ as it faced a pandemic that still threatens uncalculated economic repercussions beyond the lives lost.

Even during two world wars, Muti noted, theaters stayed open to provide cultural relief except during the worst of the bombings.

‘’In that sense, this virus was even more devastating than bombs,’’ Muti told The Associated Press before the inaugural concert for the Ravenna Festival’s 30th anniversary season, in which he conducted the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra that he founded in 2004.

The festival, founded by Muti's wife, salvaged its season by scheduling its nearly 50 events in outdoor venues with limited audiences, and spacing musicians at least a meter apart — challenging what Muti noted was the literal symphonic order of ’’playing together.''

‘’In the message of solidarity that I send to the entire cultural world, I give a signal from Ravenna, that at a certain point you can restart, you must restart, with caution and with care,’’ said Muti, who has been at the helm of some of the world’s most famous theaters, including Milan’s La Scala and London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. In the United States, he won accolades leading the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1980s and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 2010.

‘’You pay a high price for the absence of culture,'' he said.