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New York Philharmonic to Perform in North Korea

Posted December. 13, 2007 03:07,   


The New York Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the most renowned orchestras in the U.S., officially announced on Monday that it will perform in Pyongyang on February 26 next year.

This will mark the first major U.S. cultural visit to the reclusive country. Consequently, the orchestra’s visit has drawn great attention as to whether it will serve as a catalyst for the thawing of relations with North Korea; just as “ping pong diplomacy” paved the way for enhancing relations between the U.S. and China.

Historically, U.S. musicians have assumed diplomatic roles. In the past, the New York Philharmonic performed in the Soviet Union in the wake of improved relations between the U.S. and the then USSR.

The orchestra held a news conference in Avery Fisher Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York in which Philharmonic Chairman Paul B. Guenther, President Zarin Mehta, and Pak Gil-yon, North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, were present, among others, for the announcement of the orchestra’s performance schedule for North Korea.

The esteemed visitors will perform at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater during their roughly 48-hour stay in Pyongyang between Feb. 25 and Feb. 27. In addition to the single performance on the 26th, they will hold an open rehearsal and a teaching session.

During the Pyongyang performance, the North Korean and U.S. national anthems will be played. A performance of the U.S. anthem on home soil is unprecedented in North Korean history.

The scores will also include George Gershwin`s "An American in Paris," Antonin Dvorak`s Symphony No. 9 – also known as "From the New World."

The North Korea concert follows the Philharmonic`s previously planned concerts in Beijing, China, and visit to Seoul on February 28. A chartered Asiana Airlines jet will transport the musicians.

Orchestra president Zarin Mehta stressed the significance of the orchestra’s performance in North Korea, saying, “Music has the power to bring people together. Our visit to Pyongyang is a small step forward, but a great leap towards unification between the two nations.”

North Korean ambassador Pak Gil-yon, who unexpectedly appeared at the press conference as a North Korean official, said, “I believe this philharmonic’s performance will help to enhance friendship and mutual understanding between the musicians and citizens, and will ultimately promote friendly relations between the two countries.”

The U.S. State Department has given its full support to the New York Philharmonic’s concert from the very beginning of contact between the orchestra and North Korea. Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, the Bush administration’s chief diplomat for negotiations with North Korea and the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, encouraged the members of the Philharmonic to engage and seriously consider the request of the North Korean government.

The North Korean government has shown active support for the performance. Frederick F. Carriere, vice president of The Korea Society, said, “When the New York Philharmonic requested a specific sound facility be installed at the performance venue, the North Koreans showed their positive attitude by immediately sending experts to manufacture the necessary facility.

When asked of the human rights issue in the North, Zarin Mehta didn’t elaborate, saying, “It is irrelevant to bring up that issue. The New York Philharmonic’s concert will contribute to facilitating the opening of the North.”