Bringing modern music to Pyongyang, by Alexander Liebreich

[German conductor Alexander Liebreich is one of the few Westerners to have visited North Korea several times. On his last trip, with the Munich Chamber Orchestra in November, he was surprised how much the situation has changed. Liebreich was interviewed on the BBC World Service programme The Forum, as can be read below. Alexander Liebreich is the chief conductor of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Munich Chamber Orchestra. He established a reputation for pursuing unusual projects. In 2002, he visited North and South Korea together with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie where they gave the first Korean performances of Bruckner Symphony No. 8. He has since returned to North Korea six times. The 2005 documentary Pyongyang Crescendo captures his teaching experiences there. Liebreich’s trips to Pyongyang are part of a programme of cultural dialogue between North Korea and Germany sponsored by the Goethe Institute. The Goethe Institute runs programmes with the North Korean government which include study exchange trips, German language teaching and support for the Grand Study Hall of the People, North Korea’s national library. –CanKor]

Alexander Liebreich in Pyongyang (Photo by Nils Clauss, Goethe Institute Korea)

Alexander Liebreich in Pyongyang (Photo by Nils Clauss, Goethe Institute Korea)

“Is there anywhere in the city that we shouldn’t go?”

It is wise to ask this question early on in a trip to Pyongyang. I put it to our contacts at the German Korean Friendship society, who had helped organise our trip.


“But… is it OK to just walk around Pyongyang, unaccompanied?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be?”

I was astonished. Their only recommendation was that we avoid visiting the train station and resist taking photos of military buildings.

I travelled to Pyongyang with my orchestra to give workshops to students at the University of Music and Dance with the ambitious plan of putting on a joint concert after five days. Read the rest of this entry »

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