DPRK symphony’s London concert postponed

UPDATE 2:  Soprano Suzannah Clarke, the first Briton to perform in the DPRK, has been working to bring North Korea’s state symphony to perform in London.  Unfortunately, she has had to postpone the Sept. 17 perforance until next year:

Although a bank has withdrawn its sponsorship for the tour because of the credit crunch, organiser Suzannah Clarke said the concerts could have gone ahead with another backer but concerns over the venue in London had forced a rethink.

“We could have still run the tour with the sponsorship that was promised to us but we felt it would have been a squeeze and that is not the way to do things properly,” Clarke, a British opera singer, told AFP.

“We were not 100 percent sure about the venue in London. It is a very large orchestra which needs a very big stage and we were trying to fit them into a very small space.” (AFP)

It will cost at least 400,000 pounds (US$720,000) to fund the trip (Yonhap).

UPDATE 1: Fingers crossed that NK orchestra will visit UK in September
by Michael Rank

Fingers are tightly crossed that North Korea’s State Symphony Orchestra will visit Britain as planned in September as planned even though a key sponsor has withdrawn its support due to the credit crisis.

Soprano Suzannah Clarke, who is something of a superstar in Pyongyang, has been greatly frustrated in her battle hard to bring the 160-member orchestra to London by the decision of the bank to drop out, and fears she could be pipped to the post by a visit by the orchestra to the U.S. instead.

She said that with just a few weeks to go plans are uncertain, but “We are still working to make it happen in September.” But if the visit does go ahead the orchestra will perform in Methodist Central Hall, close to the Houses of Parliament, rather than the bigger and more glamorous Royal Festival Hall or Royal Albert Hall as originally planned.

Not that Central Hall is lacking in political or historical significance–far from it. As Clarke noted, it hosted the 1946 inaugural meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which would make it a highly appropriate venue for the first visit by a North Korean orchestra to the west.

She said one of London’s prestigious concert halls had told her the orchestra could not play any North Korean music, which she found surprising and shocking as the visit is aimed at promoting peace and understanding and is not political in nature.

Clarke said she was, to her consternation, in competition with American efforts to bring the orchestra to the U.S. in October, and although she had little definite information about this it appeared that the Bush administration was eager for the visit to go ahead before the end of the Bush presidency following the recent nuclear agreement. It would of course be a fitting return visit following the historic visit by the New York Philharmonic to Pyongyang in January.

She said raising money for the planned visit had been an enormous headache. “There isn’t a good feeling around for the DPRK for funding,” she added.

She was hoping that the orchestra would follow its visit to the U.K. with a visit to the U.S. and that it would all be part of a “world peace initative”,  but the State Department, Korea Society and New York Philharmonic were keeping their cards close to their chests and it was hard to tell what their plans were. “They are being very difficult, they want to go it alone,” she added.

Apart from visiting London, she hopes the orchestra will perform in her native Middlesbrough in northeast England, which has enormous significance in North Korea as that’s where the North Korean football team sensationally beat Italy in the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1966.

Clarke has performed every year since 2003 in North Korea, where she has sung everything from Mozart to Gershwin and from Verdi to Andrew Lloyd Webber. But she is unlikely to be going this year as she gave birth to her first child in January.

Mr. Rank wrote about Ms. Clark last October as well.

ORIGINAL POST:  The Times of London reports on Suzannah Clarke’s continuing efforts to bring North Korea’s state symphony to the West for the first time.  No word on whether “ordinary” people will be able to attend.  Excerpts below:

Children more used to singing When the Saints go Marching in are now being taught North Korean anthems in preparation for the state orchestra’s first visit outside the world’s most secretive nation.

The unprecedented tour is part of a mission by a former steel worker turned operasinger to bring the 160-piece orchestra beyond the last Cold War frontier to Britain for a one-off performance in Middlesbrough. As one of the few Westerners to be invited to North Korea, the celebrated soprano Suzannah Clarke has been given permission by Kim Jong Il to bring the ensemble on tour to Britain.

The first stop will be the unlikely location of the Teesside town, which has shared a strange bond with Pyongyang ever since the North Korean football team delivered one of sport’s most surprising results when they beat Italy during the 1966 World Cup at the local stadium.


Clarke said: “I have deliberately chosen non-political songs, including the Arirang, which is enjoyed by both North and South Koreans as a celebration of their culture.” She added that military propaganda would not feature in the repertoire.

The tour, scheduled for this September or May next year, depending on the level of American involvement, will be the first time that the orchestra has been allowed to perform outside the reclusive Stalinist state.

Read the full article here:
Children sing for peace as North Korean musicians make historic visit
Times of London
Lucy Banneerman


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