A historic trip to North Korea

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra left prospects of international relations on a high note last Tuesday, when it was invited by the communist North Korean government to perform at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater in Pyongyang, Korea.

The world-renowned orchestra saluted native Koreans with its memorable performance last Tuesday and had three standing ovations. The concert aired nationwide on television and broadcast radio.

However, it was screened under rigid government censorship in North Korea. Of the attendees, Korean men and women dressed in their best, watching the rare and heartfelt ensemble of Western and traditional Korean music, which left few musicians leaving the stage in tears.

The orchestra made history, as it became the first Western orchestra to ever perform in communist North Korea. With the orchestra performing most of its concerts at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, an invitation to perform at the world’s most isolated nation is completely out of the ordinary. Supporters of this concert believe that it will reduce the tension between the United States and North Korea.
However, on the other hand, some made light of the rare event, such as White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, who downplayed the diplomatic side of the concert in a press conference. “I think at the end of the day we consider this concert to be a concert,” she stated.

In contrast to this comment made by U.S. political official, the concert should not be seen as just any other concert, but upheld as a significant key factor for possible diplomatic ties in the future between North Korea, the United States, and other countries.

Needless to say, the event may play a helpful role in potentially softening anti-U.S. propaganda in North Korea when it attracted the most Americans ever to travel to the cantankerous state in half a century, since the end of the confrontational Korean War.

Some, like Perino, do not realize the great value that this concert holds. One must consider the countless efforts America has made in the past on behalf of strengthening its diplomatic ties with other countries. Certain past efforts include sending U.S. cultural representatives to other countries, bringing abstract expressionist art to Europe during the Cold War, the New York Philharmonic’s other historic trip (led by famous conductor Leonard Bernstein) to the Soviet Union in 1956, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s landmark tour of China in 1973, as well as sending our ping-pong team to China.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Mark Swed, a supporter of the event, wrote, “A Concert that contains a couple of pretty wonderful works masterfully, spectacularly played by a great orchestra expressing a conspicuous sense of mission is not just any concert. This was the first time in half a century that Americans had traveled en masse to belligerent North Korea. We came bearing the gifts of Gershwin and Dvorák.”

Let us just hope that with such a concert, the United States and North Korea can begin talks with the intention of finally easing the tension between them. This way, not only would there be the beginning of a strong diplomatic tie but also it can open the door for greater cultural exchange between their peoples. With any luck, the Philharmonic’s trip is only the first step.