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“The Pyongyang Concert – New York Philharmonic
Orchestra with Lorin Maazel” is a 2008 DVD release
of special significance. It documents the visit of 280
members and staff of the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra to North Korea, which was the first
time that an American orchestra had performed
there. Filmed in the East Pyongyang Theatre, at
a running time of approximately 107 minutes,
this concert was a mixture of both Korean and
Western Classical music. The heart of this DVD lies
in the 52-minute documentary, “Americans in
Pyongyang,” which chronicled the trip from its
preparation to fruition.

This musical exchange was of unprecedented
significance, and was instigated by the North Korean
government. It was a huge success, and should
have helped bridge the cultural divides between
the United States and North Korea. While recent
diplomatic relations do not reflect this spirit of
interaction, I nevertheless applaud the efforts of
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and
Maestro Lorin Maazel for making this historic trip.

As shown in this documentary, members of the
orchestra and Maestro Maazel participated in
coaching sessions with various Korean musicians.
The actual concert program consisted of fairly
standard repertoire, and included the “National
Anthems” of both countries, the “Prelude to Act III
of Lohengrin” by Richard Wagner, Antonín Dvořák’s
“New World Symphony,” George Gershwin’s
“An American in Paris,” the “Farandole”
from Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2,” and
the “Candide Overture” by Leonard Bernstein. Proper
decorum was expressed by concluding the concert
with a performance of a famous Korean
folksong, “Arirang.”

The performances by the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra were fine, and reflective of their
reputation as a topnotch ensemble. As noted
above, the concert appeared to be a huge success
with the North Korean audience. I did find
Maestro Maazel’s use of rubato during the
performance of the “New World Symphony”
rather interesting. It was almost as though he
was attempting to emulate Wilhelm Furtwängler’s
highly personal tempo modifications from yesteryear.
I’m not certain that these choices were always
successful, but I respect Maestro Maazel’s right to
make these decisions, given his reputation on the
podium. It’s also clear that he’s one of the better
baton technicians out there, providing precise
cues and a clear beat. As a retired bassist, I must
admit that I would feel most comfortable playing
under such a skilled conductor.

This DVD was released under the EuroArts label,
and I recommend it as a combination of a concert
with a travelogue documentary.