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Asia

Music Breaks Down US-North Korean Barriers

The New York Philharmonic has become the first American orchestra to perform in communist North Korea. It performed a selection of Western classical music to a packed audience in Pyongyang, which included North Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator and a former US secretary of defence. The concert signals a warming of relations between the two enemies, a year after a breakthrough deal in which Pyongyang agreed to shut down its nuclear programme.

The New York Philharmonic played to a packed East Pyongyang Grand Theatre

The New York Philharmonic played to a packed East Pyongyang Grand Theatre

Will he come or not? That was the question that the North Korean official refused to answer for security reasons.

But as the North Korean national anthem started to sound at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre the audience stood up -- revealing that Kim Jong Il -- the public-shy North Korean leader -- was not present.

He is apparently more of a film buff than a music fan but some people had speculated he wouldn't miss the chance to attend the concert by America's oldest philharmonic, acting as a cultural ambassador in "his" capital city.

Stars and Stripes

After the North Korean hymn came the American Star-Spangled Banner. After the anthems the audience continued standing as the US flag was hoisted onto the stage.

This was an historic moment considering North Korea and the US are still technically at war, as an official ceasefire ending their 1950-1953 war was never signed.

At the beginning of the second half of the concert, conductor Lorin Maazel took the microphone and announced George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" as the next piece, commenting that maybe one day there would be a piece entitled "An American in Pyongyang".

Relations still tense

Political relations between North Korea and the United States remain tense.

The US has recently expressed worries that North Korea is providing nuclear material to Syria.

And the fact that Pyongyang has failed to provide a list of all its nuclear facilities despite last year's six-nation aid-for-disarmament deal remains a bone of contention.

Under the deal, North Korea should receive heavy fuel, steel and rice in return for dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear facility and providing a comprehensive list of its nuclear facilities.

Unpleasant sounds of jazz

It was no coincidence that Gershwin's lightly jazzy "An American in Paris" was chosen. Jazz is technically forbidden in North Korea -- it is considered unpleasant to the ear. Yet, the concert was broadcast live across the country on television and radio.

So those North Koreans with the luxury of electricity and a television set were able to hear unusual music officially.

Conductor Lorin Maazel told reporters before the concert that the concert represented a small step in relations between the US and North Korea and expressed the hope that more would follow.

"Music has always traditionally been an arena or an area in which people can make contact. It's neutral, it's emotional, it's person to person.”
  • Date 26.02.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act)
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  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsN2
  • Date 26.02.2008
  • Author DW Staff (act)
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink http://p.dw.com/p/LsN2