Wednesday, February 27, 2008

DPRK News Bulletin: New York Philharmonic Performs in Pyongyang; Congratulatory Message Sent to President Raul Castro in Cuba

New York Philharmonic Performs in Pyongyang

Pyongyang, February 26 (KCNA) -- The New York Philharmonic on a visit to the DPRK performed at the East Pyongyang Grand Theatre Tuesday.

Appreciating the performance were Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Kang Nung Su, minister of Culture, Mun Jae Chol, acting chairman of the Korean Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Pak Kwan O, chairman of the Pyongyang City People's Committee, Song Sok Hwan, vice-minister of Culture and chairman of the Korean Association for Art Exchange, Kim Yon Gyu, chief of the State Symphony Orchestra, and working people in the city.

Among the audience were diplomatic envoys of different countries and representatives of international organizations here and foreign guests and overseas Koreans.

Put on the stage were the DPRK's Patriotic Song, the U.S. national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, WAGNER's Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, DVORAK's Symphony No. 9, From the New World, GERSHWIN's An American in Paris, BIZET's Farandole from L'Arlesienne, BERNSTEIN's Candide Overture and orchestra Arirang.

The world-renowned Philharmonic with a long history showed exquisite and refined execution and high representation under Chief Conductor Lorin Maazel.

February 27, 2008

North Koreans Welcome Symphonic Diplomacy

New York Times

PYONGYANG, North Korea — As the New York Philharmonic played the opening notes of “Arirang,” a beloved Korean folk song, a murmur rippled through the audience. Many in the audience perched forward in their seats.

The piccolo played a long, plaintive melody. Cymbals crashed, harp runs flew up, the violins soared. And tears began forming in the eyes of the staid audience, row upon row of men in dark suits, women in colorful high-waisted dresses called hanbok and all of them wearing pins with the likeness of Kim Il-sung, the nation’s founder.

And right there, the Philharmonic had them. The full-throated performance of a piece deeply resonant for both North and South Koreans ended the historic concert in this isolated nation on Tuesday in triumph.

On Wednesday, North Korea’s main state-controlled daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, gave a brief account of the concert, with a picture of the orchestra, on an inside page. Of Lorin Maazel, the Philharmonic’s music director, it said, “His performance was very sophisticated and sensitive.”

The audience applauded for more than five minutes, and orchestra members, some of them crying, waved. People in the seats cheered and waved back, reluctant to let the visitors leave.

“Was that an emotional experience!” said Jon Deak, a bass player, backstage moments after the concert had ended. “It’s an incredible joy and sadness and connection like I’ve never seen. They really opened their hearts to us.”

The “Arirang” rendition also proved moving for the orchestra’s eight members of Korean origin. “It brought tears to my eyes,” said Michelle Kim, a violinist whose parents moved from the North to Seoul, South Korea, during the Korean War.

The piece was part of a program carefully constructed to showcase the orchestra and its tradition. A State Department official who accompanied Zarin Mehta, the orchestra’s president, on a planning trip to Pyongyang, the North’s capital, last year suggested that “Arirang” be played, Mr. Mehta said.

The emotional setting took a turn away from the political theme that had dominated the visit, which began on Monday and ends on Wednesday, when the orchestra flies to Seoul.

It was the first time an American cultural organization had appeared here, and the largest contingent of United States citizens to appear since the Korean War. The trip has been suffused with political importance since North Korea’s invitation came to light last year. It was seen by some as an opening for warmer relations with the United States, which North Korea has long reviled.

The concert brought a “whole new dimension from what we expected,” Mr. Maazel told reporters afterward. “We just went out and did our thing, and we began to feel this warmth coming back.”

He suggested that there would be a bigger impact. “I think it’s going to do a great deal,” he said. “I was told 200 million people were watching. That’s important for the people who want relations to improve.” The concert was broadcast live in many nations, including in North Korea.

“If it does come to be seen in retrospect as a historical moment,” he added, “we will all be very proud.”

Still, there was little indication that the good will generated by the visit would affect a critical issue: North Korea’s nuclear program, and efforts to determine the extent of it. At a banquet following the concert, Song Sok-hwan, the vice-minister of culture, said: “All the members of the New York Philharmonic opened the hearts of the Korean people.” He called the concert “an important occasion to open a chapter of mutual understanding between the two countries.”

It did not appear that the country’s leader, Kim Jong-il, was present at the concert. High-ranking officials did attend, including the vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, the vice culture minister and the chairman of the Pyongyang People’s Committee, akin to mayor.

In Washington, on Tuesday, the White House played down the significance of the concert, while criticizing the North for failing to meet its commitments to disarm. Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said the performance neither hurt nor helped American diplomatic efforts.

“At the end of the day, we consider this concert to be a concert,” Ms. Perino said, “and it’s not a diplomatic coup.”

At the outset, the sound of the American national anthem at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater was striking. The North Korean anthem came first, and the audience stood for both. The flags of both countries flanked the stage, which was separated from the audience by a bank of flowers. The players moved on to the prelude to Act III of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.

Then Mr. Maazel introduced the next work, “American in Paris” by Gershwin. “Someday a composer may write a work titled ‘Americans in Pyongyang,’ ” he said. In Korean, he added, “Enjoy!” The audience, mostly stone-faced until then, grew slightly more animated.

For an encore, Mr. Maazel introduced the overture to “Candide” by Leonard Bernstein, which the orchestra played conductorless, in homage to Bernstein, a former Philharmonic music director.

The concert evoked other orchestra missions to repressive states, like the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s visit to the Soviet Union in 1956, followed soon after by a Philharmonic visit, and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s trip to China in 1973.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Mr. Maazel drew a distinction between Tuesday night’s concert and the Philharmonic’s visit to the Soviet Union.

“It showed Soviet citizens that they could have relations with foreign organizations and these organizations could come in the country freely,” he said. “But what the Soviets didn’t realize was this was a two-edged sword, because by doing so they allowed people from outside the country to interact with their own people, and to have an influence. It was so long lasting that eventually the people in power found themselves out of power” in a country that was a “global threat.”

“The Korean Peninsula is a very small area geographically,” Mr. Maazel said, “and has an entirely different role to play in the course of human events.” Drawing a parallel, he added, “would do a disservice to the people who live here and are trying to do their art and make a better world for themselves and all of us.”

Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.

Kim Jong Il Sends Congratulatory Message to Raul Castro Ruz

Pyongyang, February 26 (KCNA) -- General Secretary Kim Jong Il Monday sent a congratulatory message to Raul Castro Ruz, second secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba.

The message said:
We extend warm congratulations to you in the name of the Workers' Party of Korea, the government and people of the DPRK on your election as president of the Council of State and president of the Council of Ministers of Cuba at the first session of the 7th National Assembly of People's Power.

The above-said heavy responsibilities entrusted to you are an expression of the deep trust and high expectation of respected Fidel Castro and the Cuban party and people for you.

Believing that the comradely and militant friendly and cooperative relations between the peoples of the two countries provided by President Kim Il Sung and Fidel Castro would steadily grow stronger in the course of carrying out the common cause of socialism, the message sincerely wished him success in his responsible work.

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