Smart Korea Move?

Smart Korea Move?


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2008

Responses to my personal mailbox are running 3-1 in support of my commentary on Bloomberg that the New York Philharmonic’s visit to North Korea is morally and culturally unacceptable. That’s high, but not overwhelmingly so.
There is, if course, considerable substance to the opposing case – that is is usually better to make jaw-jaw than war-war, and that the way to unfreeze tensions is not by hiding behind high walls of political preconception.
It seems to me, none the less, that there are two disabling flaws to the cultural diplomacy argument. The first is to apply it to Hitler’s Germany. Would a 1938 trip by the NY Phil have averted WW 2 and the Holocaust?
In Pyongyang, New York’s finest will be entertaining seasoned killers who, contrite today, may kill again tomorrow – if only by picking up the phone to Teheran and having another quiet swap of nuclear know-how.
The second qualm relates to consumption. Every calorie eaten, every bath taken, every light switched on by the 130 New York musicians and their entourage of 150 handlers and journalists is one kilojule of energy, one tub of water, one volt of energy stolen from a population that has been systematically starved by its unrepentant government. Playing a symphony concert to the Beloved Kim gives nothing back to his malnourished nation.


  • Michael says:

    I agree. They NY Philarmonic going to Korea can be a risky move.
    Who knows what political disaster could happen there on live TV.

  • aloysiusmiller says:

    I agree with you completely. It is morally reprehensible to stand anywhere close to The Dear Leader’s bully pulpit.

  • Jacob says:

    They measure energy in ohms? Does this mean they’ve eliminated all resistance?
    NL: I guess I meant volts. I’d better change it…

  • Marko says:

    I’ve been intrigued by this visit and if I were a Philharmonic musician I would have jumped at the chance to play in Pyongyang. I do take your point about the futility and possible immorality of it all, though.

    My major quibble, though, is that the Philharmonic has been given this platform yet has planned such a lame program there. This might be been a good time to “afflict the comfortable” instead of providing what is going to be almost light entertainment. They should have played something like Varese’s Ameriques, one of the darker Shostakovich symphonies (4, 7, 8, 10 or 11), or perhaps Mahler 9. Alex Ross’ recent comment that they’re the most boring of major orchestras is supported by the opportunity they’re passing up here.

  • Patrick Frank says:

    How many countries has The Dear Leader invaded or toppled since 1953? Wake up, people. It’s only music.

  • Dennis says:

    Mahler 9? My fave, but I think Mahler 6 would work better in this context.
    Or May be they could have taken a page from Bernstein and performed Beethoven’s 9th with “freude” surreptitiously changed to “freiheit”? Then again, probably not a lot of German speakers of North Korea, so it wouldn’t have much impact, and probably wouldn’t be hihghlighted in local tv reports.
    Speaking of the program: has there been any discussion of how the program was chosen and who decided on what was to be played? Did Maazel and the NYPO give the North Korean regime any influence or veto power over the program?

  • SuzanneNYC says:

    I disagree completely. First, a concert is not an endorsement. Second, governments may be evil, but the people are not. It’s vitally important for people to meet people and engage in basic human communication. That’s what this is all about. And even this little contact (even with “handlers”) will have an effect that can not be predicted. Our policy of isolating countries as a means of punishing them or bringing them into line (N Korea, Cuba, Iran) doesn’t work — not now not ever. As for that tired Hitler analogy — it’s a red herring and totally theoretical. One event changing history — of course not. But perhaps if the world had been more engaged at that time — had witnessed what was going on in Germany, had spoken out about the treatment of the Jews, perhaps then history would have been different. Evil tyrants, such as Hitler, are enabled by passivity and indifference. People meeting people is an antidote. It’s our hope for the future.

  • aloysiusmiller says:

    The NK people chose security over freedom some time ago. Most who disagreed fled and live in the South. The NK people should be an object lesson to us on choosing security from the state over individual freedom and personal responsibility. We’re slowly walking down that path in the West.

  • aloysiusmiller says:

    Here is a good link that puts the visit into perspective: