Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Art Transcends Politics

Tonight the New York Philharmonic made history, performing in Pyongyang, North Korea.

It is the first time such a large American delegation has entered the Communist country.

Its leader is elusive, and because the country is hidden from foreign eyes, reports of food and energy shortages are heard of but not confirmed, and there are many stories of people desperate to escape the poverty.

So when the American orchestra was invited to come perform there, it was seen as a signal of a warming of relations between the US and North Korea.

Conductor Lorin Maazel led the musicians in playing both countries' national anthems and then a program of Wagner's Prelude to Act III of "Lohengrin", and Dvorak's "New World" Symphony, which was commissioned and premiered by the orchestra in 1893.

And of course the NYP performed George Gershwin's "An American in Paris", and did an encore with Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" overture.

No one is sure if leader Kim Jung-il attended the concert, but many senior government officials were there.

The orchestra had performed in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kaohsiung, Taipei and Beijing before coming to Pyongyang. Journalists tried to get more thoughts from Maazel about his upcoming historic concert, but he refused to give any hints.

However, in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal, the 77-year-old wrote:

I have always believed that the arts and their exponents, artists, have a broader role to play in the public arena. But it must be totally apolitical, nonpartisan and free of issue-specific agendas.

It is a role of the highest possible order: Bringing peoples and their cultures together on common ground, where the roots of peaceful interchange can imperceptibly but irrevocably take hold.

If all goes well, the presence of the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang might gently influence the perception of our country there. If we are gradually to improve US-Korean relations, such events have the potential to nudge open a door that has been closed too long.

Maazel's prediction was spot on.

And after the concert, many who attended were very emotional, ranging from excitement to elation and sadness. Some wept afterwards.

Hopefully this concert will give political leaders on both sides the inspiration to reach out to each other and have honest, open talks.

The power of art knows no bounds.

1 comment:

ding dong said...

lucky neither washington nor the bush administration was able to bar the new york philharmonic from performing in communist north korea. it is an echo of the ping-pong diplomacy many a decade ago when communist chinese premier chou en-lai introduced the little game of ping pong to the international scene. i heard n. korea even invited eric clapton to perform aslo. yes the arts find no political boundaries. as beethoven writes: 'all people are brothers'. let not the narrow americanism from the present white house masters prevent the coalition of peace loving peoples . let the people of the world unite through the common language of fine arts.