MOSCOW — The Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of world-renowned conductor Riccardo Muti performed in Russia on Wednesday for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Muti and the U.S. ambassador described the visit as part of President Barack Obama's efforts to improve relations with Russia.
Chicago, the hometown of the U.S. president, "has become one of the symbols where all the people in the world look, hoping that the world ... can reach a future of peace and mutual understanding," Muti said at a news conference with Ambassador Michael McFaul before the concert at the Moscow Conservatory.
The conductor said music was able to bring people together because it was based on feelings, not words. "The problems in the world are created most of the time by words, and for ambassadors the less they speak the better it is," Muti said.
"Especially for me," the ambassador added.
McFaul, who took up his post in January, has reached out to ordinary Russians through social networking sites with a candor unusual for a diplomat, occasionally causing unintended controversy. Speaking in Russian from the stage Wednesday evening, he told the audience that he knew Obama was delighted that Chicago's orchestra was performing in Moscow.
The orchestra performed Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, with the oboe solo played by principal Eugene Izotov, a native of Moscow who studied at the Gnesin School of Music. The two other pieces on the program were Dmitri Smirnov's Space Odyssey and Nino Rota's Music from Il Gattopardo.
After a second performance on Thursday, the orchestra travels to St. Petersburg for a single concert on Saturday.
About half of the musicians were with the orchestra when it last performed in Moscow in November 1990.