Monday, December 10, 2007

Let The Cultural Exchanges Begin

The New York Philharmonic got an invite to play in North Korea and they've accepted. They'll go next year in February. I got news of this delivered to my email inbox earlier today.

I have to say this is good. Now how much good it will do in isolation is neglible but maybe it will be the start of more to come.

Philharmonic Agrees to Play in North Korea

Adding a cultural wrinkle to the diplomatic engagement between the United States and North Korea, the New York Philharmonic plans to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, in February, taking the legacy of Beethoven, Bach and Bernstein to one of the world’s most isolated nations.

The trip, at the invitation of North Korea, will be the first significant cultural visit by Americans to that country, and it comes as the United States is offering the possibility of warmer ties with a country that President Bush once consigned to the “axis of evil.”

“We haven’t even had Ping-Pong diplomacy with these people,” said Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, the Bush administration’s main diplomat for negotiations with North Korea and the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Just last week Mr. Bush sent a letter to Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, suggesting that ties would improve if North Korea fully disclosed all nuclear programs and got rid of its nuclear weapons. Conservatives have criticized the Bush administration for engaging with North Korea when it has violated nuclear promises, and in the face of recent intelligence indicating its possible assistance to Syria in beginning work on a reactor.

State Department officials said the orchestra’s invitation from North Korea and its acceptance represented a potential opening in that Communist nation’s relationship with the outside world, and a softening of its unrelenting anti-United States propaganda.

“It would signal that North Korea is beginning to come out of its shell, which everyone understands is a long-term process,” Mr. Hill said. “It does represent a shift in how they view us, and it’s the sort of shift that can be helpful as we go forward in nuclear weapons negotiations.”

The Philharmonic’s trip, which has generated some controversy among orchestra musicians and commentators, will follow a venerable line of groundbreaking orchestra tours that have played a role in diplomacy, the most famous one, perhaps, taking place in 1973, when the Philadelphia Orchestra traveled to China soon after President Nixon’s historic visit and amid what came to be known as Ping-Pong diplomacy. In 1956 the Boston Symphony was the first major American orchestra to travel to the Soviet Union. The New York Philharmonic, under Leonard Bernstein, went three years later.

Of the Philharmonic’s excursion, Mr. Hill said, “I hope it will be looked back upon as an event that helped bring that country back into the world.”
Click the link above to go to the NY Times and read the full article.

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