Monday, February 25, 2008

The New York Philharmonic arrives in North Korea

The government of North Korea is one of the most brutal and murderous dictatorships on Earth. The North Korean people suffer and die needlessly as a result of its depredations and its continued attempts at nuclear blackmail are an affront to all the peaceable people of the world, yet the Bush Administration and the New York Philharmonic seem to think that the North Korean heart can be warmed with a musical numbers.

The New York Philharmonic became the most prominent U.S. cultural institution to visit isolated, nuclear-armed North Korea on Monday, and orchestra members said they hoped their musical diplomacy could bring the two nations closer together.

North Korea made unprecedented accommodations for the orchestra, allowing a delegation of nearly 300 people, including musicians, staff and journalists to fly into Pyongyang on a chartered plane for 48 hours.

The Philharmonic's concert Tuesday will be broadcast live on North Korea's state-run TV and radio, unheard of in a country where events are carefully choreographed to bolster the personality cult of leader Kim Jong Il. [Burt Herman, Associated Press Writer]
I fail to see how the Philharmonic's performance would differ from any other "carefully choreographed" event designed to bolster the standing of the Dear Leader and his henchmen, yet according to New York Philharmonic director Lorin Maazel, it would be a mistake not to visit Pyongyang.

Music director Lorin Maazel said despite the political overtones of the trip, it was the right decision to go to North Korea.

"I think it would have been a great mistake not to accept their invitation," he said after arriving at the Pyongyang airport.

"I am a musician and not a politician. Music has always traditionally been an arena, an area where people make contact. It's neutral, it's entertainment, it's person to person," Maazel said.
I suspect that Maazel would present a different take on the political neutrality and entertainment value of music if the Philharmonic was invited to perform a rousing rendition of the Horst-Wessel-Lied, yet the irony of politically free westerners performing music for the benefit of a totalitarian dictatorship is apparently lost upon Maazel.

Nevertheless, I wish the best for Maazel and his orchestra. With any luck, they will get to sample the accommodations at the (in)famous Ryugyong Hotel. Maybe there they can finally come to grips with the reality that something is not quite right in North Korea.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

As far as I am aware, the New York Philharmonic, upon accepting the invitation and gaining the appropriate US Government permission agreed only with numerous conditions including maintaining control on repertoire and that the concert be as available as possible to the general public, including, but not limited to broadcasts and telecasts. Therefore any insistence on playing something like Horst-Wessel-Lied as some similar constraint would have been unacceptable. Fear and ignorance lie at the bottom of most intolerance and while never condoning the current and historical actions of the North Korean regime, dialogue and cultural exchange through time and within a political process can help bring about change. We have the example of the engagement with the Soviet Union through last century to serve as an example.

Nicholas Provenzo said...

Anonymous wrote:

> Therefore any insistence on playing something like Horst-Wessel-Lied as some similar constraint would have been unacceptable.

The point is not that the NY Philharmonic would be made to play something inappropriate by the North Koreans, it is that that Maazel's claim that music exists above or separate from ethics and politics is absurd.

>Fear and ignorance lie at the bottom of most intolerance and while never condoning the current and historical actions of the North Korean regime, dialogue and cultural exchange through time and within a political process can help bring about change.

"Please don't enslave your people—here's a lovely aria to listen to" is not the harbinger of cultural change. If the NY Philharmonic's had visited Nazi Germany in the 1930's, its visit would not have led rapprochement with the Nazis; on the contrary, it only would have made the Nazis appear civilized, while gaining the free nothing.

>We have the example of the engagement with the Soviet Union through last century to serve as an example.

Precisely, and look at Russia now—no longer Soviet, but still very much authoritarian.

Anonymous said...

The North Korean leader was not in attendance, and the concert was for the people. The people of North Korea DO deserve such cultural exchanges, even if they happen to be born and suffer under the current North Korean regime.
Any kind of positive exchange and communication with the people of North Korea and the citizens of our country (notice I didn't say politicians)can have a positive effect on their next leader, who may have been sitting in that audience, or listening on the radio...thinking to him(or her)self "Hey, those Amercians aren't so bad".

I know--- far fetched with the current powers that be, but from my point of view(which I am assuming is much younger than yours, considering your comments and reaction to a musical exchange)...that type of change and hope is totally possible.

I don't think the people of North Korea should have to suffer any more because of their leadership---- denying them art, culture and communication with other countries does not accomplish your goal of punishing their leader. That "old school" approach only creates more enemies-in-the-making, which, quite frankly, I don't think our country could use at this time.

Bruce V. Bracken said...

>I don't think the people of North Korea should have to suffer any more because of their leadership---- denying them art, culture and communication with other countries does not accomplish your goal of punishing their leader.<

Do you think that, when the Jews were led to the gas chambers, the classical music being played eased their suffering?

bruce v. bracken said...

BTW, isn't it funny how the worst tyrants in history seem to love classical music? I think the trend started with Nero.

Grant said...

Anyone who thinks that Kim Jong Il really wants to warm up to America must also believe that Ahmadinejad was broken up about 9/11 when he visited NYC last year.

Neither was sincere. Both are just staged requests designed to show - both to their subjects as well as to the rest of the world - just how much of a paper tiger America really is.

The message sent to Islamic morons around the world last year was "look, terrorism works - they're accepting us." The message sent to the North Korean people this week will be "look, threats of nuclear annihilation work - they're giving us the best of their culture. They respect us."

Burgess Laughlin said...

By bruce v. bracken, on February 26, 2008 12:33 PM

BTW, isn't it funny how the worst tyrants in history seem to love classical music? I think the trend started with Nero.


Is there a timing problem here? Nero killed himself in AD 68. Classical music flourished in the 1700's and 1800's, nearly 1700 years after Nero.

Burgess Laughlin said...

I have two questions for Anonymous:

1. If you are confident of your position morally, why do you choose to hide behind anonymity?

2. If this time were the very late 1930's, would you want to "engage" with the Nazis in Germany? If you and they agreed to an "engagement" and if they suggested that the orchestra perform at Auschwitz--then would you support this?

Thoyd Loki said...

If this was a "cultural exchange", what did we get in return? Was there a beautiful painting of a Korean torture - I'm sorry - "interrogation" room for American viewing that I missed out on? Maybe some poems from N. Korean political prisoners?

Where is our part of the exchange?

They got 2 things. One, the experience of Western music by the NY Philharmonic. Two, a whitewash to the rest of the world, a televised facade that they are a civilized country. (Hitler got the same prize in the '36 Olympics.)

We got nothing as usual.