Philharmonic soothes discord in North Korea

THE US national anthem rang out across a North Korean concert hall yesterday in a feat of musical diplomacy aimed at improving ties with a country that considers the US its mortal enemy.

The New York Philharmonic orchestra played The Star-Spangled Banner for the country’s communist elite, the first significant US cultural group to perform in the country.

The concert represents a warming in relations between the nations that remain locked in negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programmes.

The Philharmonic began the concert with Patriotic Song, North Korea’s national anthem followed by the US anthem. The audience stood during both anthems.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not appear to be in attendance at the 2,500-seat East Pyongyang Grand Theatre.

“My colleagues of the New York Philharmonic and I are very pleased to play in this fine hall,” music director Lorin Maazel said.

Before the concert he said the orchestra had been a force for change in the past, noting its 1959 performance in the Soviet Union was part of that country’s opening up to the outside world that eventually resulted in the downfall of the regime.

“The Soviets didn’t realise it 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,” he said.

When asked if he thought the same could happen in North Korea, he said: “There are no parallels in history; there are similarities.”

Still, he said, the concert could spark other cultural and social exchanges.

The US and North Korean flags were on display at opposite ends of the stage. The orchestra played pieces including Wagner’s Lohengrin, Dvorak’s New World Symphony, and Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

The US government has supported the Philharmonic’s visit, agreed last year when efforts to end the North’s nuclear weapons programme were making progress.

Disarmament stalled because of what Washington says is North Korea’s failure to give a full declaration of its atomic programs to be dismantled.

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