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N.Y. Philharmonic Strikes Accord in N. Korea with Concert

The New York Philharmonic performed in North Korea Tuesday, the first major U.S. cultural organization -- and the largest contingent of Americans -- to visit the isolationist country in more than 50 years. Experts evaluate the event and its historical context.

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    The music was Gershwin's "An American in Paris," but it was the particular performance that got all the attention, for these were Americans in Pyongyang.

    The concert was part of a 48-hour trip to North Korea by the New York Philharmonic, the first major American cultural organization and the largest contingent of Americans to visit the communist country since the Korean War began in 1950.

    The 105 orchestra members, joined by several hundred helpers, supporters and journalists, were allowed a bit of sightseeing, but always with minders nearby, and last night were themselves treated to a concert by North Korean performers.

    Several Americans gave master classes to Korean students.

    Today's concert by the American orchestra began with the national anthems of both countries and was broadcast live on North Korea's one television station.

    The philharmonic's assistant concertmaster, Michelle Kim, who was born in South Korea, said she'd been wary before the trip but was glad she'd come.

  • MICHELLE KIM, Assistant Concertmaster, New York Philharmonic:

    I wish I could stay longer. I felt the warmest greetings from everybody here. I feel that not as North and not as South Koreans, but as Koreans, I was very, very delighted to be here and I feel just incredible.


    Lang Young Gul, considered the top cellist in North Korea, said he hoped today's concert may open an opportunity for him to play in the U.S.

  • LANG YOUNG GUL, Cellist (through translator):

    I expect to play there, but I just wish that we could have better relations so I can go there and perform.


    The U.S. State Department had helped plan the trip, but no official meetings were held during the visit, which came even as the U.S. continues to push North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

    The philharmonic's conductor and music director, Lorin Maazel, told reporters he's no politician, but hoped the trip could do some good.

  • LORIN MAAZEL, Music Director, New York Philharmonic:

    We may have been instrumental in opening a little door. And we certainly hope that if that's true that in the long run it will be seen as a watershed, you know, a moment in history, why then others will follow, and there will be a normalization over, you know, maybe two decades. These things never happen at once.


    The philharmonic concluded today's concert with a performance of a famous Korean folk song revered on both sides of the border. The audience responded with a standing ovation that lasted five minutes.