Musical harmony: NKorean, French orchestras play

MASHA MACPHERSON Associated Press Published:

PARIS (AP) -- A North Korean and a French orchestra performed a landmark concert on Wednesday, adding a note of harmony to longstanding tensions between the isolated nation and the West.

Under the baton of noted South Korean conductor Chung Myung-Whun, North Korea's Unhasu Orchestra and Radio France Philharmonic played to a packed house at Paris' Salle Pleyel music hall.

"We are witnessing a historical moment that I hope will not be an isolated event," Radio France's first violinist Svetlin Roussev said before the concert opened, crediting "Maestro Chung" for making the joint concert possible.

"For now, this is an experience lived through our hearts with the music expressing our feelings, our emotions," Roussev said, adding optimistically, "This could be the first stone to build on towards something that could be immense, for history and the world."

North Korea has long been one of the world's most isolated nations. France is among Western nations that do not have diplomatic ties with North Korea, although it opened an office in the capital Pyongyang last year to foster cultural exchanges.

There recently have been small openings between North Korea and other Western nations.

Last week, the United States and North Korea announced a deal that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid, and a senior North Korean nuclear envoy was in the U.S. to attend a university forum.

Most of the 90 North Koreans musicians -- many under age 30 -- were performing with a Western ensemble for the first time.

Roussev said that exchanges during the four rehearsals have been about typical subjects -- fatigue from jet lag, the weather, the beauty of Paris but "no sensitive issues yet."

Roussev hoped for more substantive conversation at the dinner following the concert, but said the North Koreans are "well supervised and quite reserved even if the barriers are falling."

Chung, meanwhile, hoped to also bridge the north-south divide among the Koreas -- rival states since civil war forced them apart in 1953. He opted to open the concert with a Korean folk song called "Arirang," a piece that he said earlier this week "not one single Korean ... would not know."