VATICAN CITY – Maestro Riccardo Muti conducted a concert of selections of sacred music by Vivaldi and Verdi at the Vatican for an appreciative Pope Benedict XVI Friday in a celebration of the seventh anniversary of the pontiff's election to the papacy.
Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, offered the concert in Benedict's honor. The pope sat in an armchair in the center of the main aisle, with Napolitano and the president's wife just behind him.
When the concert, with Muti conducting Rome's Teatro dell'Opera, was finished, Benedict lavished praise on the Italian maestro, who kissed the pope's hand. Benedict bestowed a red box with a symbol of the Great Cross of St. Gregory the Great, a high pontifical honor.
Benedict praised Muti's "intense interpretation" of Vivaldi and hailed both his 'sensibility for sacred music" and his determination to make the genre more well-known.
Napolitano gave the pope a musical score of a solemn Mass from the early 19th century and a "valuable" violin, the Vatican said, without describing the instrument.
Benedict is known for playing classical music, especially by Mozart, on the piano, to relax.
Muti thanked Benedict for the compliments.
Benedict, 85, has recently used a cane in public but on Friday walked steadily with no cane in sight.
(This version corrects that gift of musical score dates from 19th century but violin just described as "valuable.")