by Stephen Raskauskas
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Maestro Riccardo Muti typically doesn’t pass through a metal detector or get a pat-down before conducting a concert. But the intimate recital he presented with Joyce DiDonato, Eric Owens, and musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, September 25, 2016 was different.

The concert took place at the Illinois Youth Center-Chicago (IYC-Chicago), one of five facilities that are part of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice. Muti has made eight visits to Chicago-area correctional facilities in an effort to bring music into the community. This was his second time at IYC-Chicago.

The performance was hosted in a space that also doubles as a basketball court, with paintings of famous basketball players on the walls, including Michael Jordan stylized as the “Jumpman” logo for his Air Jordan line of footwear. Dozens of young men filed into rows of blue plastic chairs, all wearing the same blue pants, blue shirts, and white sneakers fastened with Velcro straps.

A staff member encouraged each of the young men to “push your grown man button,” and to be open to the experience they were about to have, understanding that the music they would hear would likely be different than the music they were used to, and may even be music that they did not like. All the same, he assured them, the concert would provide them with an experience that would change them.

Before Muti began, two young women from the Illinois Youth Center – Warrenville performed an original song, “Edge of Oblivion,” as a duet. It was written with Storycatchers Theatre, which as part of its mission to empower youth through writing, works with students in the Chicago area centers to create original works that explore their own journeys through song.

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