North Korea Pretends It’s Cool, Listens to NY Philharmonic, Is a Totalitarian Regime!


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From New York Times:

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Projected on a scrim, the gently falling “snow” speckled the precisely twirling figures at the Mansudae Art Theater in a dance depiction of Korean Communists’ guerrilla action against the Japanese. At the climax, a nighttime scene of downtown Pyongyang materialized, with warm lights glowing in the high-rise buildings.

Outside, in real Pyongyang, where electricity is often scarce, most buildings were dark. Malnutrition persists in the countryside. Yet North Korea presented a lavish welcome on Monday to its latest visiting delegation, the New York Philharmonic: a gala performance of traditional music and dance, and an endless banquet with quail eggs, roast mutton and pheasant-ball soup.

American and North Korean diplomats are now haggling over Pyongyang’s promise to abandon its nuclear weapons program, and the United States has dangled the prospect of a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War if the country ultimately complies. But the orchestra’s heavily choreographed visit — to include master classes, tours of the town and a concert on Tuesday night — is the first hint of a broader thaw in a half-century-long cultural standoff. Read the rest.

So there has been an on-going discussion of this particular visit to North Korea – my question is: When did North Korea cease to be one of the ‘axis of evil’ and nuclear weapon developing totalitarian regime with a crazy dictator Kim Jong-il? Will the symphony do what diplomats cannot? Do we really need to make peace with North Korean regime and thus indirectly approve of their totalitarian dystopia? Whatever happened to “spreading freedom”?

Here is Lorin Maazel’s (naive) explanation:

Last fall the New York Philharmonic accepted an invitation from the North Korean government to add a concert to our tour of Asia, currently underway. Our plans were met with excitement, shock and, in some quarters, dismay.

But the overture from Pyongyang should not have come as a surprise. The winds of change have been blowing through the split halves of the Korean peninsula. Lee Myung-bak, President-elect of South Korea, has laid out an economic program for establishing closer ties with the North, marking a departure from his prior platform. Read the rest.

Here is my favorite part from that article:

We requested that the concert in Pyongyang be open to the average citizen.

Really? You requested… this guy (below)? I wonder how that “average citizen” thing went? Oh, wait – OperaChic reports on watching the concert on TV:

Maazel addressed the vast crowds in English, while a North Korean translator helped the audience. On ARTE, we were treated to a half time show of a French interview with Zarin Mehta. It looked like 95% of the audience was party directors and of the banker/lawyer contingent, despite Maazel’s wishes as staging, “a concert for the average citizen”.

Of course they were! Anyone with any knowledge of either North Korea or Soviet Union history could tell you that – these are “the people”! To hope that this concert would bring any change to the regime is a sheer near-sighted naivete, especially considering that this was just an exotic entertainment for the Big Boy!

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2 thoughts on “North Korea Pretends It’s Cool, Listens to NY Philharmonic, Is a Totalitarian Regime!

  1. what is pheasant-ball soup?
    soup with pieces of pheasant rolled up in balls?
    pheasant soup with dough balls?
    soup with pheasant testicles?

  2. Obviously, this is the right thing to do, that it doesn’t go to ‘average citizens’ even the requestors perfectly well knew. Were you born yesterday, monsieur? They HAD to make such a’request’, that was part of the whole package, but the publicity is good, and there are other articles which were written as well in tne NYTimes which might not have been; and these do catch people up on what diplomacy is still needed and what Pyongyang has not done. Since North Korea has been in the news in the past 6 months, this was the first time I’d looked at any updates on what they’re doing. I can’t see how the NYPhilharmonic appearing there does any harm, if only because they are so used to cacophony and every sort of hideousness that hell, maybe even the fucking earth shifted, I don’t know. I found it hard to read anything about it, because North Korea is so Twilight Zone it seems like some town on Pluto or something, with everything made hideous at all times. Also, having just watched a bunch of La Scala DVD’s in a row, it’s musically very difficult to care what the NYPhil sounded like in North Korea, i.e., one imagines that somehow or other there would be strictures encoded in the very breathed oxygen that might make the orchestra sound tinny. In any case, North Korea has got to be the most un-Italian place on the face of the earth. I imagine the pheasant balls were like chicken ground into meatballs, and probably delicious. Nicholas Kristoff talked about North Korean cuisine a few years ago. Anyway, Korean cuisine is a very developed and delicious one, one of my favourites. There are marvelous restaurants here and in Los Angeles that I go to when I can–literally scores of them; I think LA’s are better, though.

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