Orchestral Manoeuvres in North Korea Prove Yet Again That Music is Universal

In Novem­ber 2012, the Munich Cham­ber Orches­tra and its con­duc­tor Alexan­der Liebre­ich had the rare chance to trav­el to Pyongyang to work with the stu­dents of the local Kim Won Gyun Con­ser­va­to­ry. The Goethe Insti­tut Korea arranged the vis­it and invit­ed Ger­man film­mak­er Nils Clauss to shoot a doc­u­men­tary about this moment of cross-cul­tur­al musi­cal coop­er­a­tion. Joint orches­tra rehearsals were held, but the Ger­man musi­cians also con­duct­ed one-on-one cham­ber music class­es with the North Kore­an stu­dents. At the end of their vis­it, the Ger­man-Kore­an ensem­ble per­formed a con­cert at the con­ser­va­to­ry.

Nils Clauss’s doc­u­men­tary shows in a beau­ti­ful and unob­tru­sive way how musi­cians from two very dif­fer­ent worlds quick­ly over­came the lan­guage bar­ri­ers and let only the music speak. Alexan­der Liebre­ich described in an inter­view with the BBC how much had changed since his last vis­it to North Korea in 2002.

You can enjoy parts of the final con­cert here:

Plus find bonus mate­r­i­al here:

By pro­fes­sion, Matthias Rasch­er teach­es Eng­lish and His­to­ry at a High School in north­ern Bavaria, Ger­many. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twit­ter.

North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams

Kim Jong-Il, North Kore­a’s leader, is revered as a genius of cin­e­ma by his own peo­ple. Or so the North Kore­an pro­pa­gan­dists would have you believe. In this fas­ci­nat­ing video from Al Jazeera, we fol­low two reporters (Lynn Lee and James Leong) as they gain unprece­dent­ed access to Pyongyang’s Uni­ver­si­ty of Cin­e­mat­ic and Dra­mat­ic Arts, where young actors are picked to serve the mas­sive pro­pa­gan­da machine. Along the way, Lee and Leong encounter two young film stu­dents – Kim Un Bom and Ri Yun Mi – as they rehearse, take music and dance lessons, and call atten­tion to their priv­i­leged lives.

How are films dif­fer­ent in cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries vs. North Korea? Leave it to Ri Yun Mi, the film stu­dent, to explain (3:27 in the video):

“Films made in cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries are com­mer­cial prod­ucts. Movies in our coun­try bring out the ide­ol­o­gy of the peo­ple. We could say we are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our [Com­mu­nist] Par­ty.”

The young reporters go on to explain the chal­lenges they faced in cre­at­ing this film. They were repeat­ed­ly denied per­mis­sion to film at the Uni­ver­si­ty, and fre­quent­ly told to delete footage when it did­n’t con­form to North Kore­a’s stan­dards. All in all, this film does a good job illu­mi­nat­ing anoth­er hid­den part of North Kore­an life: the cin­e­ma of dreams.

Eugene Buchko is a blog­ger and pho­tog­ra­ph­er liv­ing in Atlanta, GA. He main­tains a pho­to­blog, Eru­dite Expres­sions, and writes about what he reads on his read­ing blog.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.