Alexa

NY Philharmonic reunites the divided Koreas in music with simple folk tune 'Arirang'

NY Philharmonic reunites the divided Koreas in music with simple folk tune 'Arirang'

For just a fleeting moment, all it took was a simple folk tune to unite the two Koreas.
Performing on both sides of a border that remains one of the world's most impassible, dividing a people yearning to be one, the New York Philharmonic built a musical bridge between North and South Korea with a reprisal of the beloved Korean song "Arirang" in the South Korean capital Thursday that echoed its unprecedented concert two days before in Pyongyang.
A lone piccolo intoning the arpeggiated theme of "Arirang" at the start of the orchestra's arrangement was able to do what soldiers and politicians could not.
The Philharmonic's sweet music _ lacking lyrics that would have dulled the pure harmonic emotion _ wafted over the Seoul audience. Jagged lines arbitrarily drawn on a map more than a half-century ago to divide the Korean peninsula were swept away by the gentle force of violin bows.
"There's no sides _ there's no North and South in 'Arirang,'" Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel told The Associated Press after the performance in Seoul. "It's a melody for everybody. All these artificially created barriers fade away."
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the Philharmonic's legendary music director Leonard Bernstein led musicians in performances on both sides of the barrier of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 _ its final movement the ascendant, uplifting "Ode to Joy."
For its trip across the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the Philharmonic also chose Beethoven but instead finished its program with his Symphony No. 5. That work's famous first four notes which represent fate knocking could be viewed as a musical call to finally end the standoff between the two Koreas since their three-year war ended in a 1953 cease-fire that lingers unresolved to this day.
The anticipation of the South Korean audience of some 2,500 people at the Seoul Art Center was palpable as they gave the orchestra ovation after ovation following the regular program and two encores. Encores are not listed on programs, but everyone knew there could be only one fitting finale for the concert: "Arirang."
In Pyongyang, the crowd of North Koreans murmured with surprise and recognition when the Philharmonic strings intoned the well-known "Arirang" theme and harps chimed in.
The concert there began on a formal note with the North Korean and U.S. anthems, and the orchestra sat on a stage framed by the flags of the two countries.
Yet the symbolism of nations created by man rang hollow under the soft strains of "Arirang," which began with the piccolo mimicking the lone morning call of a bird and rose to its strident chorus that evokes a picture of simple, proud village life and a time long before the Koreas were divided _ people living, working and loving together.
No one knows the exact meaning of the word "Arirang," and the song is believed to date back centuries. The first part "ari" can mean "beautiful" or "deep yearning," and the "rang" means "young person."
The song is usually played before friendly events held between the Koreas, a result of strides since the late 1990s between the North and South to move past decades of animosity, and is considered a sort of anthem for a reunified Korea.
The North Koreans in the audience, hand-picked party elites, melted and rose to their feet. They refused to let the musicians leave the stage and waved farewell, drawing waves back from the orchestra, some in tears.
In Seoul, the audience hushed their applause after the second encore as Maazel raised his hands for "Arirang." Breaths were held as people let the music hold them and stir dreams of a peaceful future.
Thunderous applause and cries of "Bravo!" rang out from the crowd, which jumped from its seats after the music ended.
And the American orchestra, with its members from many nations, made history in that brief moment that rendered weapons arsenals and political dictates irrelevant.


Updated : 2021-03-06 07:41 GMT+08:00