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New York Philharmonic Accepts North Korea Invitation
Concert to help show the way music can unite people
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2007-12-13 16:33 (KST)   
North Korean ambassador to the UN Pak Gil Yon (right) shakes hands with heads of the New York Philharmonic Zarin Mehta and Paul Guenter (left).
©2007 OhmyNews
The press conference held at the Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City on Tuesday Dec. 11, was a rare event in a number of ways. First was the importance of the subject. The press conference was called to officially announce that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra had accepted the invitation it received from the Ministry of Culture in North Korea to bring the orchestra to North Korea for a concert to be given on Feb. 26.

This would be the first such U.S. cultural event in North Korea and would be an event in line with the role that cultural and sports events played to help establish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the 1950s and between the U.S. and China during the Nixon era.

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Also it was rare for the North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil Yon, to appear at a press conference in New York. He, along with Zarin Mehta, President and Executive Director of the Orchestra, and Paul B. Guenter, Chairman of the New York Philharmonic, provided substantial time for questions from journalists.

In his remarks, Ambassador Pak welcomed the official decision to accept the invitation. When asked about the origin of the invitation to the orchestra, Pak said that it had been made by the Ministry of Culture, and that the Philharmonic would be welcomed as the first guest of the New Year of 2008.

Pak believed that the visit would be the first of its kind, and would mark a significant occasion in the relations between the U.S. and North Korea. When asked why North Korea extended the invitation, the Ambassador responded that it had been extended in the hopes of encouraging friendly relations between the peoples of the two countries and to help to promote the bi-lateral relations between the U.S. and North Korea.

The orchestra receives many invitations, said Mehta, in his remarks. One concern the orchestra had was whether the concert would contribute to the success of the multinational six-party talks. When the U.S. State Department was consulted, it encouraged the Philharmonic to agree to the invitation. There were a number of other questions to be answered, however, before deciding whether the Philharmonic could agree to the concert, Mehta explained.

He led a small delegation on a five-day visit to Pyongyang in October to determine if the difficulties of such a concert could be effectively handled. For example, he had to know that they would be able to provide for 150 musicians and many instruments, some of which are large instruments. He had to see if there were adequate hotel accommodations and a concert hall large enough for the concert. During this exploratory visit, Mehta was able to determine that these needs could be satisfied.

On his trip, Mehta had a chance to meet conservatory school students. While in Pyongyang, the members of the orchestra will offer master classes for North Korean music students. They will also hold an open rehearsal of the orchestra.

On his trip to Pyongyang in October, Mehta saw an after-school program that provided activities for 5,000 children including calligraphy, choirs and playing instruments. He found the experience fascinating.

Mehta also saw a performance of the mass games, which he said was "quite spectacular." This involved a thousand people performing. There was music and dancing.

During his five day visit to Pyongyang, Mehta found that North Koreans "do things that we can't do, which were mind boggling." In music and art, he observed, we all have things to learn from each other.

Describing his hopes for the concerts, Guenter explained that "the February concerts on the Korean Peninsula are unique -- they grow out of the Philharmonic's tradition of speaking on a world stage, on significant occasions, in the international language of music. From the historic 1959 tour to the Soviet Union, to the 2005 celebration of Dresden's rebuilt Frauenkirche, to the February concerts, it is our hope that the music of the Philharmonic, can, in some way, serve as a catalyst for positive change."

The program for the concert will be Wagner's "Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin," Dvorak's "Symphony No. 9 from the New World" and Gershwin's "An American in Paris."

The symphony will be performed at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater, a hall that can seat 1,500 people. Also the concert will be broadcast to people throughout North Korea. Mehta explained that the Philharmonic encourages the broadcasting of its concerts. "We like to have our concerts diffused to as many people as possible, especially with a first performance," he said.

After the concert in North Korea, the orchestra will fly to Seoul, South Korea where it will give one concert. The program will be Beethoven's 5th Symphony.

When asked about the importance of the planned concert in North Korea and the subsequent concert planned for South Korea toward Korean reunification, he replied that "One small symphony is a giant leap."

"What follows from that is up to the diplomats to deal with, and government officials.

He said the Philharmonic hoped this would help to show the way music can unite people.

Responding to a journalist who asked, "Do you think this visit will go down in history as a milestone," Mehta said, "I expect it will, yes."

©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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