MOSCOW, Russia (CBS) -- The Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Riccardo Muti performed in Russia for the first time since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union on Wednesday (April 18), hoping to show Russian audience a different side of American culture with its rendition of Soviet composer Dmitry Shostakovich.
The performance is the highlight of this year's American Seasons festival in Russia - a series of cultural exchanges led by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and the Russian Cultural Ministry to strengthen ties between the former Cold War foes.
"What we are doing under the rubric of American Seasons is exactly in the spirit with the President Obama's vision for the reset of relations with Russia," U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul told reporters during a news conference on Wednesday.
Cultural representatives said the visit by the 121-year-old orchestra from the president's home city is an attempt to show a different side of the United States.
The Kremlin's envoy for international cultural cooperation, Mikhail Shvydkoy, said that the people in Russia know American pop culture rather well, but they hardly know about its high culture.
"Today is really a remarkable day because all of you, the listeners who will come to the Moscow Conservatory, have a chance to understand which music the American presidents are being brought up on. This is actually a serious issue," Shvydkoy told the journalists.
The orchestra picked up exactly where it left off in 1990 - playing music by Shostakovich, one of Russia's most celebrated 20th century composers. It also incorporated more modern pieces by a Belarus-born composer Dmitry Smirnov and Italy's Nino Rota.
Conductor Riccardo Muti, 70, who led La Scala's orchestra for 19 years before joining the Chicago Symphony in 2010, said he handpicked music familiar to a Russian audience to showcase the orchestra's interpretation of the pieces.
Music, he said, was a chance to transcend politics.
"We repeat so many times that culture is important, that culture is not important any more because nobody... you know we are satisfied in repeating this phrase," said Muti, who last conducted at the Bolshoi Theatre almost a decade ago. "But music can put people together because music is based on the expression of feelings and not words. The problems in the world are created most of the time by the words."
On Thursday (April 19), a quartet from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra gave a charity concert at a Moscow hospital for disabled people 'Preodoleniye' to its patients, in what the musicians called a real experience for them.
"It's a very rewarding experience for our musicians to be able to connect very intimately in a space like this, to see that they are having a very positive effect on individuals who may not be able to hear the orchestra in a big concert hall. To be in a setting like this is very special for them," Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association President Deborah Rutter told Reuters.
The 180-person orchestra performed in Moscow Conservatory on Wednesday (April 18) and Thursday (April 19), and in St Petersburg on Saturday (April 21).