Saturday, November 26, 2011

NY Philharmonic: Gershwin's An American In Paris

The New York Philharmonic plays George Gershwin's "An American in Paris" (1928), under the baton of Lorin Maazel during the orchestra's appearance in Pyongyang, North Korea, at the East Pyongyang Grand Theater on February 26, 2008. (You can view the rest of the Gershwin performance here and here.)


One could say with a high degree of certainty that this was the first time that most North Koreans had heard such music, optimistic and energetic without the heaviness of state pomp laden with ideology. In The New York Times, Daniel J. Wakin reported the day after the concert similar sentiments:
It was the first time an American cultural organization had appeared here, and the largest contingent of United States citizens to appear since the Korean War. The trip has been suffused with political importance since North Korea’s invitation came to light last year. It was seen by some as an opening for warmer relations with the United States, which North Korea has long reviled.

The concert brought a “whole new dimension from what we expected,” Mr. Maazel told reporters afterward. “We just went out and did our thing, and we began to feel this warmth coming back.
As for the Gershwin piece, it was well-picked, no doubt inspired by both its theme and its international significance. Again, The New York Times said:
Then Mr. Maazel introduced the next work, “American in Paris” by Gershwin. “Someday a composer may write a work titled ‘Americans in Pyongyang,’ ” he said. In Korean, he added, “Enjoy!” The audience, mostly stone-faced until then, grew slightly more animated.
One day it might be so. Who 25 years ago would have predicted the Soviet Union's collapse or the opening that resulted with increased trade with China? Not many. Musicians can always go to places where politicians cannot, acting as envoys of beauty and peace. Their language is international.


  1. Totalitarian dictators typically ban or limit music, just as Plato advised them to. It is amazing that the most Marxist ruler on earth allowed the New York Philharmonic to enter his country. North Korea is simultaneously a dictatorship and a monarchy--the private property of its ruling dynasty.

  2. True. Equally amazing is that the leader of North Korea himself extended the invitation to the NY Philharmonic. Yet, he was not visible at the concert.


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