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Beautiful thoughts on dialogue, culture and society from Riccardo Muti

Written by Elizabeth Bloom on .

In the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's program book that I got last week, there is an excerpt of an interview the CSO's music director, Riccardo Muti, gave with Rubén Amón in El Mundo (published March 30, 2014, with a translation by Roberto Bravo of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association).

I found Mr. Muti's remarks so candid and so moving — he tackles culture, language, smartphones and more — that I wanted to share them here: 

"Those who make music know well the importance of using creative expression to influence our society. Far from excusing us from comment and action, our profession gives us a unique voice with which to communicate at the deepest level with those around us. It is only with music that enthusiastic praise and sharp protest become possible.

"Government leaders have to realize that we are witnessing a disturbing phenomenon: culture is losing the ethical dimension. Entertainment and frivolity have transformed culture into a hybrid and commercial phenomenon that in a way renounces depth. There is a superficial conception of aesthetics. Emptiness.

"Human beings no longer talk to each other. Our totemic instrument of communication is the smartphone. Dialogue is disappearing. And dialogue is the absolute form of growth and maturity. When I was a young man, it took months to win over a girl: courtship, glances, reading between the lines, furtive encounters, rain, waiting. And maybe you got lucky and you would get a response. Today you send a text message. And the text message is reduced, sacrificing the language, simplifying dialogue. We don't even say 'I love you'; you say 'ILY' and that's it.

We are annihilating language, the dramaturgy that is needed to evolve, the drama in the theatrical sense. We are discontinuing dialectics. We have stopped explaining ourselves, even in the breakup of a sentimental relationship. The turpitude of the text message poisons human ties. The impoverishment of the language is the impoverishment of the dialogue and of the dialectic. The world communicates not in English, but in a denatured form of English. The world relates in one hundred misspelled English words. We don't seem to be aware of this tragedy. Communication has become simplification. 

"We, as westerners, have stopped reading. The television has assumed a grave responsibility, not only because it doesn't broadcast a concert, but for the triumph it gives to banality. And humanity tolerates this filthiness. Will a society be able to grow when it has renounced dialectic confrontation? We are colossal consumers of anticulture. We have given up intellectual effort in exchange for passive entertainment. It's a tragedy.

"The feeling of being part of a history and a culture differs from nationalism in that the latter is exclusive and aggressive. The extreme right that has reappeared promotes the wrong ideas. It does this by manipulating breeding grounds such as the economic crisis and youth unemployment, which has reached 47 percent in Italy. The Italians are becoming more sorrowful. Italy has saddened. The stereotype of the cheerful and cordial guy no longer exists.

"We have to be conscious of what we are. Dialogue, I insist, is our road to salvation. I have discovered through personal experience that music has the great quality to bring together people who know the musical language and could not understand each other in terms of their culture, their ethnicity, their religion in any other language. I have seen this in Sarajevo, in Tunisia, in Lebanon, in Moscow. There is no need to present a passport to join an orchestra. As Pascal said, 'The heart has reasons that reason cannot understand.' 'Music enraptures us,' Dante said. I agree." 

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