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NY Philharmonic launches music diplomacy in communist North Korea with historic concert

NY Philharmonic launches music diplomacy in communist North Korea with historic concert

The New York Philharmonic brought musical diplomacy to the heart of communist North Korea in a historic concert Tuesday, playing a program highlighting American music in the nuclear-armed country that considers the U.S. its mortal enemy.
The Philharmonic, which began with North Korea's national anthem, "Patriotic Song," is the first major American cultural group to perform in the country and brought the largest-ever delegation from the United States to visit its longtime foe.
The unprecedented concert, shown on live television inside North Korea and internationally, represents a warming in relations of the nations that remain locked in negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.
After performing North Korea's national song, the Philharmonic followed with the U.S. anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The audience stood during both anthems and held their applause until both had been performed. The U.S. and North Korean flags were displayed at opposite ends of the stage.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not attend the concert at the 2,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theater.
"My colleagues of the New York Philharmonic and I are very pleased to play in this fine hall," music director Lorin Maazel said in English at one point. He then told the audience to "Please have a good time" in Korean.
North Koreans in attendance _ men in suits and women in colorful traditional Korean dresses _ fixed their eyes on the stage. Many wore badges bearing a portrait of national founder Kim Il Sung, father of current leader Kim Jong Il, and during the performance some raised digital cameras to capture the event.
When the concert ended, with a final encore of the Korean traditional folk song "Arirang" _ beloved in both the North and South _ the Philharmonic received a five-minute standing ovation, with many members of the audience cheering, whistling and waving to the beaming orchestra.
"There may be a mission accomplished here. We may have been instrumental in opening a little door," Maazel said after the concert.
He dismissed Kim's absence, saying: "I have yet to see the president of the United States at one of my concerts. Sometimes a statesman is too busy."
Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry attended the performance that he called a "historic moment," remembering how close the countries came to war in 1994 amid an earlier nuclear crisis.
"This might just have pushed us over the top ... I hope so," Perry said after the concert, adding that Washington should reciprocate by inviting North Korean groups to the U.S.
"You cannot demonize people when you're sitting there listening to their music. You don't go to war with people unless you demonize them first," he said.
Traveling in China, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed that sentiment and said the North Korean people should have more opportunities to engage the world.
"Its a society that certainly needs ways to open up ... but it's a long way from playing that concert to changing the nature of the politics of North Korea, but I think it's a good thing," she said.
"It's not necessarily going to change the behavior of a regime that is not being as forthcoming as we need them to be on their nuclear activities," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. "From there it is possible that additional cultural exchanges like the New York Philharmonic will be available."
Ahead of the performance, Maazel said the orchestra has been a force for change in the past. He cited its 1959 performance in the Soviet Union as part of that country's opening up to the outside world, a process that eventually resulted in the downfall of the regime.
"The Soviets didn't realize that it was a two-edged sword, because by doing so they allowed people from outside the country to interact with their own people, and to have an influence," he told journalists. "It was so long-lasting that eventually the people in power found themselves out of power."
When asked if he thought the same could happen in North Korea, he said: "There are no parallels in history; there are similarities."
"To draw a parallel would be to do a disservice to the people who live here and who are trying through their art and through their culture to reach out to other human beings, to make a better world for themselves and for all of us," he said.
Following the brief prelude to Act 3 of Richard Wagner's "Lohengrin," the orchestra moved on to pieces that highlighted the ensemble's importance in American music.
That included two works that premiered with the Philharmonic: Antonin Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 _ popularly known as the "New World Symphony," written while the Czech composer lived in the United States and was inspired by native American themes _ and George Gershwin's "An American in Paris."
"Someday a composer may write a work entitled 'Americans in Pyongyang,'" Maazel said in introducing the Gershwin work, a remark which drew warm applause from the audience.
Reaction to the concert was largely positive.
"I think the concert is just a wonderful gesture for greater understanding between the peoples of the U.S. and the DPRK," said audience member Pak Chol, using the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The concert was "not only just an art performance" but also embodied the "good feelings of the Americans toward citizens of the DPRK," said Pak, counselor with the Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee.
On the streets of Pyongyang earlier Tuesday, North Koreans said they were aware of the orchestra's visit. But the trip was not yet front-page news here. A picture of the orchestra's airport arrival to the North Korean capital was printed inside the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper, along with brief stories on the event.
Ri Myong Sop, an electrical engineering student walking on the city's streets outside a subway station, repeated the country's official line that the United States started the Korean War, which ended in a 1953 cease-fire that has never been replaced with a peace treaty.
"At present, if the United States takes the decision of a more encouraging policy toward the North then we can embrace the United States," he said.
The U.S. government has supported the Philharmonic's visit, agreed upon last year when efforts to end the North's nuclear weapons program were making unprecedented progress. The country shut down its main nuclear reactor in July and has started disabling it so it cannot easily be restarted under the eyes of U.S. and international experts.
However, disarmament has stalled this year because of what Washington says is North Korea's failure to give a full declaration of its atomic programs to be dismantled, as Pyongyang promised to do under an international agreement.
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On the Net:
New York Philharmonic Web site:
http://nyphil.org


Updated : 2021-04-24 02:42 GMT+08:00