Pyongyang Opens Doors to Musical Diplomacy

The 106 members of "America's First Orchestra" made history by just being in North Korea, a country still technically at war with the United States.

In the auditorium, with the U.S. flag on stage left, perhaps the most memorable piece played was the American national anthem, a tradition when the philharmonic is on the road.

North Korea is a music-loving nation and it invited the New York Philharmonic to perform here, but it remains deeply suspicious of the United States government.

North Korea, under its leader, Kim Jong Il, has been famously labeled as part of the "Axis of Evil," but the orchestra's visit as a diplomatic tool has not been lost on observers.

Violin Diplomacy

Its performance here has been dubbed "Violin Diplomacy" — a play on words referencing Ping Pong diplomacy of the 1970s when a visit by the U.S. table tennis team opened the door for further contact with the then-reclusive Communist China.

Tonight's concert was broadcast live in North and South Korea, as well as the United States. But only around 5 percent of families in a nation of 22 million own a television. The Kim family was one of 1 million households that saw the concert and was exposed to America culture.

"It was a change in the lifetime experience," Kim told ABC News. "I wish I could have gone in person to the theater watch it."

Orchestra conductor Loren Maazel hinted at the possible importance of this historic visit when he suggested that in the future there could be a sequel to one of American composer George Gershwin's most famous pieces.

"We will play now the 'American in Paris,'" he told the crowd of Korean and American dignitaries. "Maybe someday someone will compose 'Americans in Pyongyang.'"

Finding Common Areas

Maazel has rebuffed critics who said the orchestra should not be playing in Pyongyang. He says the orchestra came to highlight music, not gulags. Music, he insists, speaks a common language around the world.

"We all belong to same race, the human race," said the world-reknowned conductor, "so let's find points in common, areas where we can interact peacefully and let that form the basis for an ever-wider area of communication and interaction."

Kim did not attend. The audience primarily consisted of a selected group of North Koreans and American patrons of the orchestra who enjoyed the classic compositions including music from Wagner and Bernstein.

The concert ended just about an hour and 40 minutes after it began, a little longer than people expected because there was more applause than they thought, but the question now is what will be the impact of this between the United States and North Korea?

Concert master Glen Ditcerow tutored a North Korean violinist before the concert.

"You have to play Beethoven like your excited and trying to break out," he told his one-time pupil.

The musicians believe this one-on-one exchange is the best opportunity to improve individual skills, while at the same time building relationships between the two countries.

While both the United States and North Korea supported the visit of the philharmonic, each government downplayed expectations that this "violin diplomacy" would lead to any breakthroughs in relations between the two countries.

One example: The orchestra announced that six North Korean musicians had been invited to perform in the concert but when the performance began, they were not there; the Ministry of Culture blocked them from performing side-by-side with the Americans.

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