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Musicians herald warming relations
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14:36, February 28, 2008

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Musicians from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the US shared the stage yesterday as the New York Philharmonic concluded a historic visit to Pyongyang that could herald warmer ties between the two nations.

Four Philharmonic musicians joined four DPRK artists in a chamber music concert, playing Felix Mendelssohn's "Octet for Strings" with no previous rehearsal.

"You absolutely do not need words, because music is a language in and of itself," said Cynthia Phelps, the Philharmonic's principal viola.

The event, before about 400 DPRK audience at the Moranbong Theater, came after the DPRK and the US found common ground in an unprecedented performance Tuesday night by the American orchestra.

That concert began with the national anthems of both countries and built to an emotional climax with the Korean folk tune Arirang. Some musicians left the stage in tears as the crowd gave them a standing ovation and waved farewell.

The goodwill continued yesterday, when the eight musicians from both countries also played a piece written by 12-year-old Sarah Taslima - a Bangladesh-born American who goes to a New York City public school - in honor of DPRK children.

Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow praised the DPRK musicians' interpretation of the pieces as "very expressive."

"It wasn't by rote," he said.

He said their skills were such that "you could give them a cigar box and they'd sound good on it."

"If they had great violins they'd be even better," he said.

Korean-American violinist Lisa Kim said that the performers did not have much chance for personal interaction with the DPRK musicians and that she did not get to ask their names

After the smaller group played, Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel led a rehearsal of the DPRK's State Symphony Orchestra, playing the overture of Wagner's Die Meistersinger and the overture-fantasy from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

Halting the musicians for instruction by simply lowering his arms, Maazel urged the strings to use more bow during one section of the Tchaikovsky and sought to calm an over-enthusiastic percussionist from starting the crescendo on a timpani roll too soon before the end of the piece.

"I never expected such a high level," Maazel said afterward.

The DPRK orchestra was all male except for two female harp players.

A British businessman helping to organize the DPRK orchestra's autumn visit to England, said there had also been talk of the ensemble playing in the United States.

"I think there's a willingness," said David Heather, who was also in Pyongyang during the Philharmonic's visit.

Whether the warm feelings engendered by the unprecedented visit linger, however, will depend on the DPRK's compliance with an international push to rid it of nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of States Condoleezza Rice, visiting Japan, said she had seen a tape of the The Star-Spangled Banner being played in Pyongyang.

"That is special, it is," she said yesterday, but suggested it was premature to assign too much significance to the concert.

Source: China Daily/Agencies

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