Sir Gilbert Levine acknowledges audience applause after conducting the May 5 concert titled,  “Peace through Music ‘In Our Age.’ ”  The concert celebrated the recent canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II and also called for a renewed commitment to the reconciliation and unity of all people.
Sir Gilbert Levine acknowledges audience applause after conducting the May 5 concert titled, “Peace through Music ‘In Our Age.’ ” The concert celebrated the recent canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II and also called for a renewed commitment to the reconciliation and unity of all people.
Just a week after he attended a Vatican Mass where St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were canonized, noted American conductor Sir Gilbert Levine conducted a Washington, D.C. concert to celebrate the canonizations.

Several hundred people - including Church officials, members of Congress and the diplomatic corps, representatives of other faiths and others - crowded DAR Constitution Hall May 5 for the concert titled "Peace through Music 'In Our Age.' " The nearly two-hour event was a joint effort of the Archdiocese of Washington, Georgetown University, WETA-TV and the Embassies of Poland, Italy and Argentina.

The concert's title comes from the Vatican II document "Nostre Aetate" ("In Our Age") which outlined the Church's relationship and dialogue with other religions.

"The sanctity of both Pope, now St. John XXIII and Pope, now St. John Paul II, we will reflect on," Cardinal Donald Wuerl said prior to the concert. "We are here to celebrate in concert, in music, their impact."

Levine - popularly known as "the pope's maestro" because of his nearly two decade friendship and collaboration with Pope John Paul II - conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke's from Carnegie Hall, the 85-voice Krakow Philharmonic Choir, and the 180-voice Choral Arts Society of Washington.

The concert was a celebration of Pope Francis's April 27 historic canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II. The canonization Mass - which was attended by Pope Benedict XVI - marked the first time two popes were canonized at the same time. It also marked the first time two popes attended a canonization.

Levine, in his conductor's notes, said that the concert was being offered "to reflect the spirit of the three popes we are honoring, and the commitment these holy men exemplify to peace and brotherhood among all the people of our world.

With a program of American, Polish and Italian music, Levine called the Washington concert "a way to express in music the unity of all people."

"For John Paul and myself, music was the language that brought us together," the conductor said in a brief address to the press before the concert. "Music was the language he (John Paul) used to express his wonderful ideas and music is the language we use tonight."

The concert included Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," which Levine said was dedicated to Pope Francis.

"John Paul, like Pope Francis, was no common man, but he served our 'everyman' with every breath God gave him," Levine said.

Two Polish works on the program - "Bogurodzica," a more than 1,000-year-old Polish Marian hymn, and "Totus Tuus," written in 1987 by Polish composer Henryk Górecki to celebrate John Paul II's pilgrimage to Poland that year -represented how John Paul "could see into the very heart of the music and experience it deeply, as in the most reverent of all prayer," Levine said.

Levine described as "ebullient, plaintive and heart-wrenching," the inclusion of Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms." He pointed out that the end of the work includes the prayer, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is when brothers come together in unity."

"This is the incredible message that we communicate tonight through music," Levine said.

Also on the program were the "Sanctus" from The "Messa da Requiem" by Giuseppe Verdi and "The Symphony No. 1 in C minor" by Johannes Brahms.

In an earlier interview with the Catholic Standard, Levine said that the entire program was "very important" because it features works that "form a musical celebration of these popes."

Levine also said that St. John Paul "would have been keen to follow" the concert because the future saint was "so attuned... to the power of music to capture the spiritual essence of truly important commemorative occasions."

Cardinal Wuerl said that his hope for the musical event was that in celebrating St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II "we can focus on reconciliation, work with one another and get to know one another better."

"We commit ourselves to moving forward ... to working together," Cardinal Wuerl said. "With this extraordinary concert, we show that it is our turn, all of us, to pick up where these two holy men left off."

The concert was recorded for presentation later on PBS and stations throughout the world.