Pope Sponsors Philharmonia Orchestra Tour

Ensemble takes pontiff's message of peace and reconciliation to world religious sites.

Pope John Paul II is sponsoring a world tour by the Philharmonia Orchestra that is part of the Vatican's Great Jubilee Celebration of the year 2000.

With its themes of reconciliation, and interfaith and ecumenical cooperation, and peace, the tour mirrors the pontiff's recent trip to Israel.

"Through the universal language of music, we share a hope and lift a prayer for reconciliation and peace across the boundaries of geography and of faith," Cardinal William H. Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, said in a statement.

The orchestra began the tour Saturday with two sold-out shows at Baltimore's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The concert in Baltimore also honored the work of the World Conference on Religion and Peace-USA, for which Keeler is co-president.

The tour will continue during the next few months with concerts at other spiritual sites, including London's Westminster Abbey, Notre Dame in Paris and several locations in Israel. The tour concludes with a concert at the Vatican to celebrate the pontiff's 80th birthday.

The orchestra performed Haydn's The Creation, led by conductor Gilbert Levine, to an audience of invited guests involved in interfaith and ecumenical efforts. Winners of a public drawing also attended.

The Creation was chosen in part because it is based on the opening verses of the Book of Genesis, sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Levine, who is Jewish, is known as "The Pope's Maestro." He has worked with the pontiff for more than 11 years, and they have known each other from the days when Levine was artistic director of the Krakow Philharmonic.

Levine's autobiography, appropriately titled "The Pope's Maestro," will be published in 2001 by Crown Publishers.

Levine has conducted many special concerts at the Vatican, including the 1994 Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust and a 1996 concert with the Television Italiana Symphony Orchestra, both available on video.

The Baltimore performance featured solos by soprano Janice Chandler, tenor Richard Clement and bass baritone John Relyea. The concert was recorded and will air on many PBS affiliates in May.

The Philharmonia tour isn't the pope's first foray into concerts. He previously persuaded legendary rock star Bob Dylan to sing at a bishops' convention in Bologna, Italy.