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Concert to honor Pope John Paul II's beatification

After a press conference at the Arts Club, Francis Cardinal George and Sir Gilbert Levine shake hands after the announcement of an April 23rd concert at Orchestra Hall to honor the one year anniversary of the beatification of Pope John Paul II. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Pope John Paul II loved Chicago.

And he loved music as a means to express what words sometimes couldn’t.

To celebrate the first anniversary of the pope’s beatification – the first step on the path to sainthood – a diverse array of cultural and religious organizations are coming together to support a special concert at Orchestra Hall in Symphony Center April 23, it was announced Wednesday.

Sir Gilbert Levine, an American conductor who performed on numerous occasions for the pope at the Vatican and around the world, came up with the idea for the concert – and its location.

“Chicago was incredibly close to John Paul’s heart,” Levine said during the announcement at The Arts Club of Chicago, which also included Cardinal Francis George and other dignitaries. “He loved our diversity. He loved our diversity of religion, our diversity of people, our diversity of who we are that makes us American, including of course, the incredible population of Polish Americans who are here in Chicago ….”

Levine said he first met the pope in 1988, when he was conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic Orchestra.

“Over the course of the next 17 years, I developed a relationship that was unimaginable for a musician – certainly for a Jewish-bred musician from Brooklyn, N.Y.,” Levine said. “The kinds of things that His Holiness wished for were concerts that were more than concerts, that had extraordinary messages of outreach.”

Levine hopes that message of unity comes through when he conducts the Lyric Opera of Chicago Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Chorus in a program that includes works by Bach and Beethoven, among others.

For tickets, call Symphony Center Box Office at 312-294-3000 or log onto