Pyongyang’s Unhasu Orchestra and Radio France Philharmonic make their debut together on Wednesday — under the baton of renowned South Korean conductor Chung Myung-Whun, who organized the event. Most of the 90 North Koreans — many of them under 30 — will be performing with a Western ensemble for the first time. The lead violinist Mun Kyong Jin spoke of his excitement at being in the French capital, where the group is spending a week.
“Paris is well preserved. The scenery and the streets are very pretty even if they are narrow,” he said through a translator. The event is also an opportunity for French musicians to learn about their Korean counterparts.
“We were quite ignorant about their musical background,” said Radio France violinist Mirelle Jardon. “We don’t know their learning methods, who their teachers are, but I think their level is very high. They are young, they can improve even more,” Jardon said. “And with this collaboration, (North Korea is) opening itself to the world.”
The concert comes as relations between Pyongyang and the West thaw after years of antagonism over the North’s nuclear program. 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.
Paris and Pyongyang do not have formal diplomatic relations, but France opened an office in Pyongyang last year to foster cultural exchanges. “This joint concert is a historical event for the bilateral relations of our two countries,” Kwon Hyok Bong, the head of the North Korean delegation, said during a rehearsal break.