Q. How did they like it?
A. They were very impressed, and they made very nice and intelligent comments about what they heard. They said that they didn't expect that they would like this music so much, because this music was so new for them.
And again, they were so wonderful and full of discipline and very attentive. So I think today we have to use this great weapon that we have -- that is music -- to put people more and more together. In fact, that is my experience, through all the concerts that I do for friendship, going around the world, in cities like Sarajevo or Cairo.
And last year we were in Nairobi, Kenya, where I conducted my Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, young Italian musicians, but with a chorus of young men and women of Nairobi, including 400 children. And they sang with me from Verdi's "Nabucco," the famous "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves." And I've received many letters from the children of Nairobi, and some are very touching: "I didn't expect that this music was so wonderful. This experience of singing with you has changed my life."
This is the point of my life, not to just do concerts, to get the applause. I think there is much more that we can do with music to help people around the world.
For example, two summers ago I did a concert in Trieste, Italy, which is on the border of Slovenia and Croatia. And I invited musicians and young singers from both those nations to join our young Italian musicians. And for the first time since the war, the Italian, Croatian and Slovenian presidents sat together and listened to the young musicians of all three nations. And this is the power of music.
Q. How does this make you feel?
A. I feel lucky to be in this profession that has this tremendous power in helping people. It's a privilege.
Q. What brought you to Chicago? You hadn't been music director of an American orchestra in nearly 20 years, since Philadelphia.
A. Between me and the Chicago Symphony something happened when we took a European tour (in 2007) -- very special, a mutual musical feeling and understanding. And I loved the orchestra immediately; the orchestra loved me immediately.
So when I came back to Chicago to conduct other concerts, I then was invited to accept the music directorship. I must say that after the Italian tour I received many letters from the musicians of the orchestra, personal letters -- not just "thank you," but letters where the musicians expressed their enthusiasms. And this was one of the elements that pushed me to accept the invitation.
(Reprinted by permission)