The New York Philharmonic Program In North Korea Includes `Star-Spangled Banner'

The New York Philharmonic will perform an American-inspired musical program in communist North Korea, including "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Gershwin's "An American in Paris," the orchestra announced Tuesday.

Details of the historic visit to the reclusive country's capital Pyongyang on Feb. 26 were discussed at a news conference at Lincoln Center, attended by North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Pak Gil Yon.

"This visit will surely deepen the understanding and cultural relations of the two countries," Pak said. He said he was not able to discuss the political implications of the visit or whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Il would attend the concert or have any contact with the American musicians.

Zarin Mehta, the orchestra's president and executive director, said the Philharmonic will play the national anthems of both countries in a musical program inspired by America, including Dvorak's "New World Symphony," which was composed while the 19th century composer was living in the United States.

During the 48-hour visit, Mehta said, the orchestra members will conduct master classes with North Korean musicians and perform an open rehearsal before an evening concert.

The orchestra's decision to perform in North Korea has received rave reviews from scholars, Korean-Americans and human rights advocates who said the concert will promote openness in the reclusive Communist regime.

"In a closed country such as North Korea, the more exposure they have to the outside world the better," said Charles Armstrong, a professor of modern East Asian and international history at Columbia University.

The announcement came four months after North Korea's Ministry of Culture sent the orchestra an invitation. In October, Mehta spent six days in North Korea exploring venues and other arrangements for a concert in Pyongyang.

Kim's government has been accused of torturing and starving its people, and President Bush once called it a member of the "axis of evil." Tensions reached a peak in October 2006, when North Korea tested a nuclear bomb.

But relations have improved since Pyongyang started disabling its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, which was shut down in July, and two other nuclear installations last month.

David Kang, a professor of government at Dartmouth College who has written about North Korea, called the Philharmonic's plans a positive step.

"Any chance to get in and open up North Korea is a good thing," Kang said Monday.

Leaders of Korean-American organizations agreed.

"I think it could be a positive move to ease the tension," said Bomsinae Kim, executive director of the Korean American Community Foundation.

Suk Woo Kang, a spokesman for the South Korean consulate in New York, called the concert "a very positive signal."

Not everyone was applauding.

In an Oct. 27 online opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, arts critic Terry Teachout wrote that the Philharmonic would "be doing little more than participating in a puppet show whose purpose is to lend legitimacy to a despicable regime."