In Alan Gilbert’s first season, just announced, the orchestra will pay a reparatory visit to North Vietnam, a gesture infinitely more meaningful and productive than Lorin Maazel’s attention-grabbing swoop last year on North Korea.
Why so? Because, while the US has dues to pay in both places, Vietnam these days is a fairly open society where people can read what they like on the internet and choose which concerts to attend. Some 17,000 Vietnamese bought into the BBC’s download Beethoven cycle. Those who go to hear the NY Phil will do so out of free will, not as puppets of a regime where nothing moves an eyelid without the Dear Leader’s say-so.
In Pyongyang, the audience was made up of party hacks and hordes of foreign journalists who descended on a starved, enslaved society like proverbial locusts. The concert, an empty showcase for one of the cruellest governments on earth, achieved precisely nothing.
In Hanoi, most of the audience will be survivors of the Vietnam War or its human legacy, the progeny of relationships, loving or coerced, between US soldiers and local people. There is much pain and memory still to be catharted in Vietnam and this event promises to be a new stage in the healing process. It augurs well for Alan Gilbert’s leadership.