Musical diplomacy as New York Phil plays Pyongyang

Tue Feb 26, 2008 5:56pm EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

PYONGYANG (Reuters) - Cold War foes the United States and North Korea enjoyed a rare moment of harmony on Tuesday when the New York Philharmonic played an unprecedented concert in the hermit state.

An audience of North Korea's communist elite gave America's oldest orchestra a standing ovation after a rousing set that took in Dvorak, Gershwin and a Korean folk song. Some of the musicians were so overcome they left the stage in tears.

"Little did we know that we would be thrown into orbit by this stunning, stunning reaction," said Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic's music director.

North Korea's solitary television station broadcast the concert live to a population taught during 60 years of animosity to view all things foreign with deep suspicion -- especially from the United States, officially their darkest enemy.

"We Koreans fully appreciate the performance this evening by the New York Philharmonic, not just as an art performance, but as the good feelings of the ordinary citizens of the United States toward the Korean people," said Pak Chol, the North's counselor of the Korea-Asia Pacific Peace Committee.

The concert was born out of talks last year on ending the impoverished North's nuclear arms program in exchange for aid and the promise of opening doors to the outside world that have been shut due to its defiant behavior.


The Bush administration in public played down the significance of the concert and White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said any future cultural exchanges would depend on North Korea's cooperation on the nuclear issue.   Continued...

<p>Members of the New York Philharmonic wave to the audience after finishing their concert at the Grand Theatre in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, February 26, 2008. REUTERS/David Gray</p>