An overture can be the musical introduction to a larger work or an indication of a willingness to negotiate. A ground-breaking concert tour by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to Iran, if it can be arranged, has the potential to fulfill both meanings of the word.
The mission of Pittsburgh’s world-class orchestra is music and it is a credit to the symphony’s leadership and musicianship that its talents are sought for venues far from its home in Heinz Hall.
But music is so much more than notes and instrumentation. It is, in the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “the universal language of mankind.” Or, to cite a more modern artist, Bono, the Irish singer-songwriter-philanthropist, said, “Music can change the world because it can change people.”
That the PSO has a history with Iran — it performed there 50 years ago, one of the last American orchestras to do so — makes it an ideal choice as a cultural diplomat. With Iran’s nuclear aspirations the focus of much international attention, there is no better time for outreach from the West.
The PSO is not attempting this effort without appropriate support. The symphony’s partner in the venture is the Pittsburgh-based American Middle East Institute, an independent nonprofit that has been building business, educational and cultural ties between the United States and the countries of the Middle East since 2008. It is significant that the proposed tour has the support of the State Department.
The Obama administration's effort to establish renewed dialogue with Iran has not been without significant criticism, particularly from Jewish groups that are rightly worried about Iran’s hostile view of Israel. But if the bureaucratic hurdles can be cleared, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s tour could raise the curtain on improved relations with a sensitive, unpredictable nation.
Correction (posted Jan. 23): This editorial no longer states that the PSO was the last American orchestra to perform in Iran. The Los Angeles Philharmonic performed there in October 1967 on the occasion of the coronation of the shah.