More useful idiots play in North Korea

More useful idiots play in North Korea


norman lebrecht

November 05, 2016

The 2008 New York Philharmonic visit with Lorin Maazel achieved precisely nothing. The North Korean regime continued building nuclear weapons, while starving and oppressing a captive population.

None of this left much impression on the Goethe Institut, which negotiated and paid for the Munich Chamber Orchestra with conductor Alexander Liebreich to venture into the heart of darkness in 2012.

Every musician the Germans are allowed to meet is wearing a Kim Jong-un badge. Kim has murdered untold numbers, including members of his family, and is doing his best to drag China into a global conflict.

So what’s the point of making music there?

Watch the film and decide for yourselves.


UPDATE: Here’s the latest from the real North Korea.



  • ElizaX says:

    This sounds like anti-North-Koreanism to me, Norman. If you are only going to attack them, and not attack all the other countries that are guilty of atrocities and mass-murder (USA chief among them………), then this can only be because you are guilty of a nasty racial prejudice.

    (That’s what everyone says about the critics of Israel, anyway………)

  • John Borstlap says:

    Heartbreaking to see these local people in the grip of state blackmailing, lies, desinformation, etc. etc. Such enterprises from the West are embarrassingly naive and pointless, and I entirely agree with Norman.

  • AlanK says:

    Lebrecht is spot on. This a totalitarian regime led by a psychopath who literally had his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend blown to pieces That country should have bee blockaded years ago. Only a moron would visit such a hell

    • stefan verbeek says:

      you’re right Sir, I totally agree

    • George Porter says:

      It is indeed a totalitarian regime, but that story about the ex-girlfriend probably isn’t true – like many such atrocity stories. There are enough bad things without inventing more.

  • la Verita says:

    Can we really say that nothing is achieved by these visits? Can we achieve more by isolating and ignoring them? Should the world have cut off all relations with China after the Tiennamen Square massacre? Three generations of North Koreans have been raised to believe that all westerners are monsters. So, if the seeds of peace are to be planted, such cultural visits are crucial. Look at what Myung-Whun Chung achieved: he managed to bring an entire North Korean orchestra to France, an event that might never have happened had Maazel/NYPO not opened the door through their 2008 visit to Pyongyang.

    • Christopher Culver says:

      “Look at what Myung-Whun Chung achieved: he managed to bring an entire North Korean orchestra to France…”

      That achievement is not as impressive as you think. Thousands of North Koreans are permitted to travel abroad if the government thinks it will bring back hard currency (or some prestige). Just look at the North Koreans working in the timber industry in the Russian Far East, or the North Korean restaurants in China and Southeast Asia which have seen some defections recently. Those allowed abroad are usually relative elites, and they know that should they try to defect or speak their minds when abroad, their families would all go to a labour camp. Furthermore, groups of North Koreans abroad are usually accompanied by a minder at all times and their ability to make even small talk, let alone substantive conversation, with locals is extremely limited.

      I very much agree with the belief that these exchanges don’t make any difference on the ultimate nature of North Korean politics and society.

      • La Verita says:

        Sending North Koreans to work in Siberian lumber camps and south-east Asian restaurants for extended periods of time cannot be equated with sending a North Korean orchestra on a brief visit to Paris. The latter brought the North Korean government no financial reward; and, with the exception of diplomats, it’s the rare North Korean citizen who gets the opportunity to visit France, or any other western country. However, some North Korean students do get the opportunity to study abroad: for example, there are North Korean students enrolled at the Moscow Conservatory. And yes, they are closely watched.

  • Bruce says:

    Well, if the only two choices are regime change or nothing, then you’d have to say that arts ambassadorships like these accomplish nothing.

    Fortunately those are not the only two choices.

  • Dave says:

    It is music not politics.
    Worth the money

  • Gerald Martin says:

    If it accomplishes nothing but a little “feel good” on both sides, then I guess I can shrug it off. If the result is self congratulation, however…..

  • M2N2K says:

    It is not so simple really. There is never a short-term positive effect. Immediate financially beneficial rewards? Of course not. Even a minimal cultural exchange can be and usually is exploited by this type of government for its own purposes. And yet…
    For a small percentage of the audience, seeing and hearing “western” musicians perform may indeed open their minds to something that their propaganda never tells them — in fact, quite the opposite of what it tells them. So, the seeds of the desire for more freedom and more information may indeed be sown that way and this might give this “disease” a chance of gradually spreading to the younger generation. This is the only possible benefit of such visits.
    But is it worth it, even in the long run? Financially, I am not an expert, but considering that some of those guys are itching to use their nukes, I would say that if nothing else, then just for our selfish reasons, any potentially positive possibilities must be explored.

  • Anna Maria says:

    If only one person listening to one of those concerts feels a little bit of something different, a whiff of other worlds, other possibilities… of only one person starts to dream different dreams… and I do believe music can accomplish that… then it’s worth the money. Of course a concert won’t change a totalitarian regime. But music can touch people in ways nothing else can, it’s a universal language. It can plant a seed of hope.

  • Esfir Ross says:

    Norman Lebrecht’s unuseful idiot! His unuseful books’re in recycle Garbage bin.