Tuesday, Dec. 02, 2008

The Pyongyang Concert, by the New York Philharmonic & Lorin Maazel

Newspapers handled the New York Philharmonic's February 2008 performance in Pyongyang like a typical goodwill visit, albeit to the most atypical place in the modern world. But a few seconds into this two-disc DVD you get a sense of just how far away North Korea really is; until a government official comes out to formally introduce the Philharmonic, the crowd sits in a spookily submissive silence. The Philharmonic's performance is solid, if not quite the monumental event one might have hoped for. Conductor Lorin Maazel opens with "Prelude to Lohengrin" by Wagner and closes with a traditional Korean piece called "Arirang" just to make sure no one misses the olive branch. But just as worthy of viewing is the bonus disc featuring the documentary Americans in Pyongyang. As Maazel leads a swaying State Orchestra through Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet, it's clear that music doesn't need translation.

Josh Tyrangiel