North Korean Orchestral Diplomacy Could Reach US

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 2:40 pm (UTC-5)
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A new wave of orchestral diplomacy may prove to be the key to soothing tensions between the United States and North Korea.

At least that is the hope of an American group working to organize a U.S. tour by North Korea's National Symphony Orchestra.

Washington-area concert promoters Classical Movements said Thursday the U.S. State Department granted visas for the tour last year but the visit was put on hold after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. The group says the trip will go ahead this year if new visas are granted.

With nuclear programs and missile tests complicating any efforts at improved relations between North Korea and the West, repeated efforts have been made to build ties through the nation's fondness for orchestral music.

Just last week, North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra joined Radio France Philharmonic on stage in France under the direction of South Korean director Chung Myung-Whun.

“We would like to play something for you, a folk tune that is much older than the political division – it's called 'Arirang'. There isn't a single Korean on both sides that wouldn't know this song.”

Chung explained that the folk tune, Arirang, is beloved by all Koreans, suggesting the song is more powerful than the politics dividing the nations.

It was not Chung's first attempt to use music to build bridges between North and South Korea.

In September, the mastro traveled to North Korea where, the North's official media reported, he watched and conducted two orchestras, including the State Symphony Orchestra.

In a statement Thursday, Classical Movements said it believes the common language of music has the ability to bring people of diverse cultures together.

The organizers credited hopes for the tour to the work of the non-profit organization Global Resource Services, which was founded in the United States in response to North Korean natural disasters a decade ago and continues to support humanitarian efforts in Asia.

But international politics could still spoil the tour. Hopes for a raprochement between the United States and North Korea — which rose after a breakthrough agreement for the North to freeze its nuclear programs — have soured again with Pyongyang's announcement that it plans to fire a satellite into space on a ballistic missile.

Classical Movements said the U.S. tour will move forward only with the approval of the U.S. Department of State.