New York Philharmonic to play in North Korean capital

February 24th, 2008 - 9:02 am ICT by admin  

By Dirk Godder
Seoul, Feb 24 (DPA) It seems the US and North Korea have embarked on new amicable paths. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra is scheduled to give its very first concert in communist North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang Tuesday, and its performance is explicitly supported by Washington. The planned concert in Pyongyang’s so-called Great Theatre of the East has been drawing international curiosity in the background of the two countries’ strained relations. The concert is to feature works by Richard Wagner, Anton Dvorak, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, and even the US national anthem is on the schedule.

The entire concert is to be broadcast live on North Korean television, an exceptional rarity.

Implemented with immense financial and organizational effort, the event represents the first major cultural cooperation between the US and politically isolated North Korea.

Transmission equipment for the show is to be delivered across the heavily guarded border between the two Koreas by South Korea’s MBC TV station.

The agreement reached last year on the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programme set the stage for an improvement of relations and the invitation of the orchestra. Cultural exchange, the US hopes, might open a door for the further development of bilateral relations with North Korea - a country that was once mentioned by President George W. Bush as being part of an “axis of evil” alongside Iraq and Iran.

But Christopher Hill, the US delegate for nuclear talks with North Korea, said during a visit to South Korea’s capital Seoul it was not yet clear what effect the concert might have on bilateral developments.

He stressed the US pursued no hostile policies, contrary to what North Korea’s regime had always asserted.

“Sometimes the North Koreans don’t like our words. Maybe they’ll like our music,” he said.

South Korean newspapers meanwhile have speculated that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice might take the opportunity for a side visit during her current Asian tour, although that seems unlikely.

It remains unclear if North Korea’s dictator, President Kim Jong Il, will attend the concert.

In any case, the scenario reminds of the concerts of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in the former Soviet Union in 1959 or of the Philadelphia Symphonic Orchestra in China in 1973.

Anyhow, so-called “ping-pong diplomacy,” which got its name from the first US table tennis teams to compete in China, has paved the way for a normalization of relations between Washington and Beijing.

For the upcoming concert in Pyongyang, several television stations including from China, Sweden, Denmark, Slovenia and Hungary have applied for live transmission, not to mention a number of US networks.

However, in the US news of the upcoming event has been greeted not only with benevolent anticipation, but also with dismay in some quarters.

World-renowned conductor Lorin Maazel responded to the criticisms in an editorial he published explaining the orchestra’s decision to participate.

“I have always believed that the arts per se and their exponents, artists, have a broader role to play in the public arena. But it must be totally apolitical, non-partisan and free of issue-specific agendas. It is a role of the highest possible order.”

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