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North Koreans and NY Philharmonic herald warming ties between U.S. and Pyongyang

North Koreans and NY Philharmonic herald warming ties between U.S. and Pyongyang

North Koreans and Americans touched by the New York Philharmonic's unprecedented concert in the communist nation said the orchestra's performance Tuesday could herald warmer ties between their countries whose troops face off across the world's last Cold War frontier.
For a brief moment, between horn fanfares and the flourishes of a conductor's baton, the two countries found common ground in an emotional performance by the oldest U.S. orchestra that spanned American and Korean musical traditions.
Whether that feeling lingers after the music is gone, however, will depend on the North's compliance with an international push to get rid of its nuclear weapons.
North Koreans remained standing for minutes after the New York Philharmonic played the final notes of the folk song "Arirang" and prepared to exit the stage, keeping up their enthusiastic applause as they waved to the departing musicians.
Grateful for the reception that moved some to tears, orchestra members paused with their instruments and waved back to the adoring crowd in an emotional finale to the concert that was the highlight of the Philharmonic's 48-hour visit.
The concert was broadcast live on North Korean TV, extending its reach beyond the 2,500 people attending the event at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater. It is not known how many North Koreans have access to televisions.
"We may have been instrumental in opening a little door," Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel said after the performance, where the rapturous crowd drew him to join concertmaster Glenn Dicterow for a final bow after the rest of the ensemble left the flower-adorned stage.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, one of the world's most reclusive leaders, did not attend, and there was no way to know whether he had watched it.
Maazel dismissed the significance of 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 and called it 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" in finding a way beyond past discord, he said after the concert, adding that Washington should reciprocate by inviting North Korean performers 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.
"I can say that through the concert tonight, all the members of the New York Philharmonic opened the hearts of the Korean people," North Korean Vice Culture Minister Song Sok Hwan told the orchestra in a banquet after its performance. "We can probably say that the New York Philharmonic concert in Pyongyang serves as an important occasion to open a chapter of mutual understanding between the two countries."
Performing on a stage flanked by the U.S. and North Korean flags, the Philharmonic played the North Korean national anthem, "Patriotic Song," followed by the U.S. anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The audience stood respectfully and held their applause until both had been performed.
The Philharmonic then presented the tragic majesty of 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 _ followed by George Gershwin's playful, jazz-influenced "An American in Paris."
"Someday a composer may write a work entitled 'Americans in Pyongyang,'" Maazel said in introducing the Gershwin work, drawing warm applause from the audience.
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. During the performance some raised digital cameras to capture the event.
For one of its three encores, the Philharmonic performed the overture to Leonard Bernstein's "Candide," paying tribute their former director by playing without a conductor after Maazel turned the podium over to the spirit of the late musician with an exhortation of "Maestro, please!" in Korean.
The concert wrapped up with a final encore of the Korean traditional folk song "Arirang" _ beloved in both the North and South and often used as a reunification anthem at friendly events between the two Koreas.
Jon Deak, associate principal bass player, who performed under Bernstein to celebrate the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, said members of his section had tears in their eyes while waving to the audience at the end of the concert, and "I just can't remember that that has happened before."
"I don't think we've ever been moved so deeply," he said.
"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," Pak, counselor with the North's Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, said in English.
Yet the optimism did not appear to extend to Washington officials, who were dismissive over whether the concert could yield better relations without progress in North Korea's nuclear disarmament. Washington is pressing for Pyongyang to give it a complete declaration of all its past and present atomic activity, as it promised to do by last year under an international accord.
The concert is "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."
Traveling in China, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the North Korean people should have more opportunities to engage with 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.
Ahead of the performance, Maazel noted the orchestra has been a force for change in the past, citing its 1959 performance in the Soviet Union was part of that country's opening up to the outside world 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."
On the streets of Pyongyang earlier Tuesday, North Koreans said they were aware of the orchestra's visit.
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 through one of the government-provided translators who accompanied all journalists covering the trip.
The Philharmonic's trip may be followed soon by more musical diplomacy.
North Korean officials at the country's embassy in London confirmed Tuesday that they had invited guitarist Eric Clapton to play in Pyongyang.
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Updated : 2021-07-30 23:00 GMT+08:00