Page last updated at 09:14 GMT, Monday, 25 February 2008

NY Philharmonic in North Korea

The plane carrying the musicians arriving in Pyongyang
About 300 musicians, staff and journalists flew to Pyongyang

The New York Philharmonic orchestra has arrived in North Korea, for what has been described as a remarkable display of cultural diplomacy.

The orchestra is due to play in Pyongyang on Tuesday, and the concert will be broadcast live on local TV.

It is the largest US presence in the reclusive state since the Korean war more than half a century ago.

The US State Department has authorised the trip, despite deadlock on the issue of North Korea's nuclear programme.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she welcomed the concert but cautioned against expectations that it would lead to dramatic change.

"I don't think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea," said Ms Rice, herself a classical pianist.

'The power of music'

According to John Sudworth, a BBC reporter travelling with the musicians, the concert will be the most prominent cultural exchange between the US and North Korea in the isolated country's history.

Violinists with the New York Philharmonic

Pyongyang has made unprecedented attempts to accommodate the orchestra, allowing a delegation of nearly 300 people to fly to Pyongyang for a 48-hour period.

Even the anti-American posters that usually line the streets of Pyongyang have been torn down, the Philharmonic's executive director, Zarin Mehta, told the Associated Press.

"This journey is a manifestation of the power of music to unite people," Mr Mehta said ahead of the trip.

"It is our sincere hope that these concerts will aid in the beginning of a new era between the peoples of our nations."

The concert will feature Antonin Dvorak's Symphony Number 9, An American in Paris by George Gershwin and the Korean folk song Arirang.

Propaganda coup?

The concert comes amid the ongoing diplomatic push to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.

The visit has been compared to US orchestral visits to the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the so-called "ping pong" diplomacy with China in the 1970s.

The US government has given its blessing to the trip, and analysts have pointed out that, if nothing else, the event will allow North Koreans to listen to something from the outside world - a rarity in a country where all events are carefully choreographed in praise of leader Kim Jong-il.

It will be wrong to expect too much out of it.
Tomas B, Czech Republic
But others argue that a visit by such a distinguished institution as the New York Philharmonic gives the North Korean state an air of respectability it does not deserve.

One New York tabloid has called the venture a "disgrace" that has handed Kim "a propaganda coup".

Before accepting the invitation, the orchestra said it insisted the concert should begin with the United States national anthem.

It is not yet known whether the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will be in the audience to hear it.

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