- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2008

Advance reviews were decidedly mixed last fall when it was learned that the New York Philharmonic’s upcoming Asian tour might include a stop in North Korea. Should the philharmonic “choose to play in Pyongyang,” groused Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal, “it will be doing little more than participating in a puppet show whose purpose is to lend legitimacy to a despicable regime.”

In Op-Ed remarks published in the New York Times, United States Committee for Human Rights in North Korea board members Chuck Downs and Richard V. Allen — formerly President Reagan’s national security adviser — said they feared the visit would “hand [North Korean ruler] Kim Jong-il a propaganda coup.”

The controversy escalated when the philharmonic’s conductor and music director, Lorin Maazel, lashed out at the trip’s critics in an Associated Press article Monday confirming that the philharmonic would perform a concert in Pyongyang on Feb. 26.

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw bricks, should they?” Mr. Maazel demanded. “Is our standing as a country — the United States — is our reputation all that clean when it comes to prisoners and the way they are treated? Have we set an example that should be emulated all over the world? If we can answer that question honestly, I think we can then stop being judgmental about the errors made by others.”

Mr. Maazel’s implication of a moral equivalence between the human rights records of the U.S. and North Korea has stirred outrage among those who believe the latter is a totalitarian police state responsible for mass starvation among its own population.

“It’s regrettable that all that emanates from Mr. Maazel’s podium is not as credible as the music,” says John J. Mahlmann, executive director of Reston-based MENC, the National Association for Music Education.

“Lorin Maazel’s comparison of America’s lawful treatment of its prisoners to North Korea’s unlawful mistreatment of theirs bespeaks a mind so befuddled and corrupted by the poison of multiculturalism that it should dishearten us all,” says Arkansas writer Paul Lake, poetry editor of First Things, whose new novel, “Cry Wolf: A Political Fable,” is due out in late spring.

In the AP article, Mr. Maazel defended the trip in terms of cultural outreach, pointing to concerts he previously conducted in Leonid Brezhnev’s Russia, Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s Portugal and Francisco Franco’s Spain.

“I thought I was making music and stretching out a welcoming hand to folks who might not have been believers of the regime under which they were living,” he said. “I feel this way certainly about North Korea.”

At least one member of the orchestra, violinist Lisa Kim, voiced what the AP termed “grave doubts” about the visit. Members of her Korean family still bitterly remember the sufferings inflicted on them by the North during the Korean conflict. She was not entirely reassured by Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who had addressed the ensemble and endorsed such U.S. outreach efforts, according to the AP report.

As of this writing, the philharmonic has not responded to The Washington Times’ request for comment on the reaction to Mr. Maazel’s statements.

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