American Orchestra Performs in North Korea

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The New York Philharmonic orchestra performed in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang, this week.  It was the first performance by an American symphony orchestra in the communist state.  More than one hundred performers made the trip to Pyongyang, led by the Philharmonic's musical director, Lorin Maazel.  The historic event was broadcast live on television and radio in North Korea. It can also be seen on the Internet.

More than one thousand North Koreans attended the concert Tuesday night.  North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not attend. However, other top North Korean officials did.

The New York City orchestra performed the North Korean national song and America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."  The musicians played famous music, including Antonin Dvorak's "New World Symphony" and George Gershwin's "An American in Paris." The performance ended with a version of "Arirang," a Korean folk song that is considered an unofficial national anthem in both North and South Korea.

North Korea's government usually bans music that is not approved by officials. As a result, jazz, rock and most Western classical music are not permitted.

The North Korean government has always described the United States as a hostile aggressor.  But the American orchestra's visit was widely described as a form of musical diplomacy.  Some Americans hoped the friendly cultural exchange will help improve relations between the United States and North Korea.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry praised the event as a chance to improve understanding and trust between North Korea and the United States.  South Korean experts say much has changed in North Korea since leaders from the North and South met in two thousand.  They say expanded contacts have increased the flow of information about the rest of the world into North Korea.  Many experts say the country is not as disconnected as it once was.  They say events like the Philharmonic performance make important gains in opening North Korea even further.

However, the White House spokeswoman said the performance neither hurt nor helped American diplomatic efforts. She said relations between the two countries will only improve when North Korea provides information about its nuclear programs.  It was supposed to provide such information about two months ago to the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.  Those countries have promised aid and improved diplomatic relations if North Korea ends all of its nuclear programs.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake.  I'm Steve Ember.

(MUSIC: "An American in Paris")

Voice of America Special English

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