Letter from North Korea -- Part 2

After months of anticipation, we landed 36 hours ago in Pyongyang, North Korea. The purpose? Ostensibly, to attend the New York Philharmonic concert at the invitation of the North Korean Ministry of Culture. But the real reason was to witness history.
nyphil sign

As to the concert, it was a stunning success – musically, emotionally, and politically. The invited audience heard one of the world’s finest orchestras play at its highest level, and with an enthusiasm that one rarely experiences at its Lincoln Center subscription performances. Leading off with both nation’s national anthems and concluding with a traditional folk song from Korea (North and South), the program evoked a surprisingly emotional response from both the audience and the orchestra.

The normally non-demonstrative North Koreans stood up and gave the performers a prolonged ovation, and one then began waving their hands. The orchestra, in turn, which usually leaves the stage promptly, lingered on the stage and reciprocated by waving back at the audience. Now tell me, how many times have you seen
that at a classical concert?

As to the reaction of the board members and patrons in the audience, many a tear was shed. And a number of the musicians told us after at the gala dinner that they, too, were emotionally affected. It was a night to remember.

Which leads us to the second issue: Will history also remember the night? Can a musical event have any influence on bringing together two nations that have no diplomatic relations have technically been at war since 1950? Can a concert conceivably have any impact on the six-party talks that are attempting to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons?

We were encouraged by a discussion we had this evening with a high-level adviser to the talks who happened to attend both yesterday’s inauguration of Lee Myung-bak as South Korea’s new president and tonight’s Philharmonic concert. He had three points to make. First, the parties are beginning to realize that it is likelier to reach an agreement in this final year of the Bush administration than to wait for a new president in 2009 to get up to speed on this exceedingly complex and delicate negotiation. This belief is predicated on the administration’s renewed desire and preliminary efforts to make it happen.

Second, President Lee’s inaugural address was much more conciliatory toward North Korea than suggested by the conservative president’s prior hawkish position.

And finally, this observer said that what the talks need now are a tipping point, one that will be brought about by the opposing parties’ reducing their distrust of each other. He feels the concert tonight could help bring about that reduction. The good will demonstrated by the North Korean government – they really pulled out all stops – and the support of our State Department could be meaningful harbingers.

North Korea giving up nuclear arms? The U.S. and North Korea resuming diplomatic relations? Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? To be continued.
nk view air
Last look at North Korea as we headed home