February 26th, 2008
10:52 PM ET

How the Philharmonic is heard in Pyongyang

On a cold, blustery Pyongyang morning, the warm glow of musical friendship cuts through the chill...News of the New York Philharmonic's historic concert here in North Korea is on the front page of the daily communist worker's newspaper.

The concert hall was packed with the capital's elite. But in a nod to the Philharminc's demands, North Korea broadcast the whole event live to people across the country.

People raised on a diet of state propaganda and anti-Americanism for the first time heard the Star Spangled Banner played alongside their own national anthem, with the Stars and Stripes flying alongside their own flag.

Even the harshest cynic knows that even a few months ago, no one could have imagined seeing this.

When the conductor Lorin Maazel introduced George Gershwin's American in Paris, he joked that one day perhaps someone would write a piece called Americans in Pyongyang.

The North Korean audience appaluaded loudly. They got it.

It was amazing to see the standing ovations, to watch the Korean audience clap, cheer and wave goodbye to their American guests after the final bow.

This concert comes as North Korea and the U.S are engaged in nuclear diplomacy over disarming this country.

Just two days ago I was on a rare, even historic tour of their nuclear facility in Yongbyon. It's been shut down and is being dismantled with U.S. technicians monitoring and helping.

Perhaps the most clear-eyed assessment I got about this moment was from former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry who called the concert historic and said it "could just push us over the top" in negotiation efforts.

He believes a nuclear deal is possible before the end of the Bush Administration, but the remaining suspicions and mistrust need to be addressed by people-to-people contacts, such as this concert.

Indeed, afterward, one woman told me that by playing its best music for them, the U.S. is sendng a friendly and peaceful message.

–Christiane Amanpour, Chief International Correspondent

Filed under: Christiane Amanpour • North Korea
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