Written by Robin Berger
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Topics: Music, Korea, orchestra

Friday, 29 February 2008

image for New York Philharmonic brokers Korean peace accord
Guest musician/negotiator Keith Richards performs "Arirang" to seal a peace accord between North & South Korea

SEOUL, South Korea -- The New York Philharmonic brokered a musical end to the Korean War on Thursday, reprising its emotional performance of the Korean folk tune "Arirang" in the South Korean capital after its unprecedented concert in Pyongyang.

The audience of South Koreans, who had been able to watch the North Korean peace negotiations on Tuesday via a live television feed, gave the American orchestra ovation after ovation following its program and two encores -- yearning for the song beloved by all Koreans to be played here on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone.

When Philharmonic music director and lead negotiator Lorin Maazel took the stage for "Arirang" and raised his arms to sign the peace treaty, the audience immediately hushed in anticipation. Thunderous applause and cries of "Bravo!" rang out from the crowd of some 25,000 at the Seoul Arts Center that jumped to its feet when the war was formally ended between the two countries.

"There's no sides -- there's no North and South in 'Arirang,'" Maazel told The Associated Press after the signing of the peace accord that brought the orchestra's trip full-circle. "It's a melody for everybody. All these artificially created barriers fade away."

"Seventy million Koreans love you," Park Sam-koo, chairman of the Kumho-Asiana Culture Foundation, told Maazel backstage, referring to the combined population of both Koreas.

The orchestra began as they did in Pyongyang with the national anthems of the host country and the United States. Peace negotiations soon followed to the sound of classical music.

South Korea's new President Lee Myung-bak, sworn in Monday, was backstage filing the peace treaty paperwork with his government and could not enjoy the concert. On Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il also was not seen in the audience due to his backstage commitments to the peace accord.

The orchestra featured South Korean pianist Son Yeol-eum in Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto. They finished the regular program with Beethoven's inspiring Fifth Symphony, which starts with the most famous four notes in music that signal fate knocking.

After two encores, the orchestra gave the crowd what it had been waiting for with the signing of the "Arirang Peace Treaty" -- the official anthem for reunification that is regularly played at friendly events between the formerly rival Koreas.

"We are the same people in the same land, but different issues separate us from each other," said Kim Kyung-rok, 34, a peace negotiator for South Korea, speaking of the peninsula that had been split by the world's last Cold War frontier. "It's very sad because there is North Korea and South Korea, but the New York Philharmonic orchestra will make (us) be one."

"It was an unforgettable moment," Andre Kim, South Korea's most famous fashion designer and chief peace negotiator, said. "Very soon I do wish there would be diplomatic relations between the United States ... that will help bring peace (through music) in all the world."

Song Ja, 73, former president of Seoul's Yonsei University, had predicted that "music will turn Kim Jong Il's ways." It was this prediction that convinced Maestro Maazel to broker a peace treaty that no one else could accomplish.

Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, had deep expressed skepticism at the outset of the peace negotiations. He insisted an orchestra of musicians would not "change the system and the fundamental nature of the problems we're facing."

But Vershbow quickly backpedaled after the Philharmonic's Seoul musical performance and its visit to Pyongyang, claiming the musical peace negotiations had showed the isolated North Koreans "the possibility of a different relationship with the United States." "Through music, we were able to make some kind of connection with North Korea" that the non-musical negotiation teams had never dreamed of, he said.

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