February 26, 2008
The New York Philharmonic arrived in North Korea for a two-day cultural visit, to culminate with an internationally broadcast concert on Tuesday. The visiting orchestra and press corps make up the largest U.S. delegation to North Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Speaking at the first live news conference ever broadcast from insular nation, Zarin Metah, the orchestra’s executive director, said he hoped the visit would help normalize relations between the U.S. and North Korea. (Reuters)
What the commentators said
“Defenders” of the Philharmonic’s visit will tell you “It’s about music, not politics,” said Melanie Kirkpatrick in The Wall Street Journal. But “Maestro Kim Jong-Il” doesn’t see it that way. In North Korea music, like all the arts, is supposed “to serve the state,” and the Dear Leader will probably tell his people that the New York musicians are more “admiring vassals carrying tribute” from abroad. But there are also reports that “rock, rap, love songs,” and other banned music forms are popping up now. Gershwin and Dvorak didn’t write “music known for launching revolutions,” but “then again, who knows?”
Well, “count us” among those who think “there isn’t much to be gained,” said Michael Goldfarb in The Weekly Standard blog, from our “country’s most famous orchestra serenading Kim Jong-Il.” And it seems hard to believe that the North Korean people, “between scrounging for tree bark to eat and trying to avoid being sent to slave labor camps,” will find much to like in the visit, either.
Actually, it might provide some people with a life-defining “‘A-ha’ moment,” said Brian Hinrichs at his Classicalive blog. Sure, the orchestra and the State Department might be “playing into the hands of Kim Jong-Il’s propaganda machine,” but not even the Dear Leader can “deny the beauty and hope in offering new exposure to this music and this organization.” Thousands of people will be exposed to Dvorak and Gershwin for the first time, and “if just one child” is “inspired” by it, “all the fuss will have been worth it.”
Try 4 Risk-Free Issues of The Week magazine.