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It's not like they just tuned up and played

A 747 jet and 15 trucks haul in equipment for the Philharmonic concert in N. Korea.

February 27, 2008|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA — The podium for maestro Lorin Maazel and the American flag came from New York.

Electrical generators, climate-controlled trucks for precious musical instruments and gasoline came from Seoul.

Bringing a full symphony orchestra to one of the world's most isolated countries measures high on the logistics scale of difficulty. To make possible Tuesday night's concert by the New York Philharmonic, a 747 jumbo jet was specially adapted to carry more than 11 tons of equipment. From the other side of the last Cold War barrier, a convoy of 15 trucks crossed the demilitarized zone.

Not including the cost of the musicians' salaries, or the concert hall, hotel rooms and meals, which were paid for by the North Korean government, the cost of the concert came to about $950,000, according to those involved with the planning.

Raising money was also a problem because the Philharmonic's global sponsor, Credit Suisse, was reluctant to back a concert in a country still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. The orchestra was lucky to get a donation from Yoko Nagae Ceschina, a Japanese philanthropist who lives in Italy. A personal friendship between Zarin Mehta, the orchestra's president and executive director, and Park Sam-koo, head of a South Korean conglomerate that owns Asiana Airlines, led to the loan of the 747.

"When you are doing something of this scale in terra incognita like North Korea, it gets complicated," said Evans Revere, president of the New York-based Korea Society, which helped with the logistics.

Some items were simply unavailable in North Korea -- among them an American flag, since the countries have been in a state of hostility for more than half a century.

The flag displayed on stage for the concert was made to order and sent in by the Philharmonic.

The orchestra was already on an Asia tour that was scheduled to end in Beijing. But North Korea gets so few visitors that there are only two flights a week -- on Tuesdays and Fridays -- between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Symphony orchestras do not tour lightly: altogether the New York Philharmonic was flying in tons of equipment, between the wardrobes, music stands, stools and the larger instruments. (The musicians carried the smaller instruments on the flight.)

Television companies also picked up some of the costs of the concert, buying rights to broadcast the concert in South Korea, the United States and Europe, but that required a whole additional layer of logistical requirements since North Korea had none of the needed equipment.

Only once before had South Korean television broadcast from Pyongyang, during the 2000 summit between the South's then-President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"We can't fault them. They are unused to staging an international production of this level," said Tom Baer, an executive of EuroArts Music International, which bought European rights.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

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