Some Additional Thoughts About The NYPhil In North Korea

NkusaI’m writing this just after finishing up yesterday’s radio appearance at WNYC’s Soundcheck and I wanted to get some additional thoughts out before they become blurred by the rest of my day. First off, many thanks to the staff at Soundcheck for inviting me to take part in the discussion; it was a sincere honor to talk about such a momentous event in a live, national forum. Additional thanks to Norman Lebrecht, who is someone I respect have always maintained a good relationship with. It is never a dull conversation when Norman’s involved. Immediately after the segment concluded, the first thought that popped into my head was about the overriding point that Norman and other fine minds such as Terry Teachout have made which is a despot like Kim Jun Il are just using the New York Philharmonic to advance their despotic rule. Yes, bad people will do bad things but that shouldn’t prevent good people from doing good things…

Adaptistration People 152aI’m glad Norman brought up the issue of sanctions and the example of where that course of action was effective, such as South Africa. At the same time, sanctions, along with any other diplomatic tool, do not guarantee universal results. Furthermore, if the sanctions against South Africa excluded cultural exchanges, would that have been enough to keep the government from falling? Just imagine how quickly inroads could have been made once that government collapsed if stronger cultural ties had been forged throughout the period of sanctions.

Right now, I watch the presidential candidates argue about how to deal with Cuba now that Castro has abdicated power. But all I can think of is how much has been lost over the last several decades because the sanctions were so tight as to exclude cultural exchanges. I have to wonder whether the Florida Philharmonic would have gone out of business if they had something such as regular visits to Cuba as part of their strategic mission. Perhaps the Miami community would have realized the value and importance of having a world-class professional orchestra instead of allowing it to fade into oblivion.

I could probably sit here and write about each and every point that comes to mind on this issue but ultimately, I think it is important to look at the New York Philharmonic’s performance not from the whether or not it instigates change but how successful they were at making connections capable of withstanding the strains of change. In a way, that’s exactly the sort of challenge the business, as a whole, is going through in each respective community. When history looks back at Korean/U.S. relations (and I sincerely believe that the peninsula will be united during my lifetime) it will spend less time examining the politics of a brutal regime and more time on the cultural ties that served to help pull the victims of that regime up to equal standing on the world stage.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “Some Additional Thoughts About The NYPhil In North Korea”

  1. Interesting thought concerning the FPO, however I do not think it would have mattered. While it is possible that we would have gotten more attention from the Cuban community in Miami, I don’t think it would have helped enough. We did one performance in “Little Havana” during my time with the orchestra performing Latin works. If we had done a trip to Cuba before this particular concert, it very well could have increased our attendance, but I don’t think the increase would have been enough. The attendance at this particular concert which we advertised well was 27. You have to start somewhere, but it was obvious the Cuban community wasn’t interested. We never went back.

    Still, the basic answer to whether we would still be in existence if Cuba were in our lives is no. Cuba would not have helped. It would merely have dragged out the inevitable.

  2. Hi Drew:

    I have long been a believer in “cultural diplomacy,” and traveled with you to Venezuela when you reported on the remarkable work of FESNOJIV and El Sistema. Cultural diplomacy works both ways, and the concerts themselves tell only part of the story. Just as 140 young musicians from the New England Conservatory’s Youth Philharmonic Orchestra came home permanently and positively changed from their experience with the passionate young Venezuelan musicians, so too, I imagine, have the musicians of the New York Philharmonic been equally affected. The televised concert only tells a part of the story: NYPhil musicians also played chamber music side by side with North Korean musicians and were allowed to see some of the country, albeit in a very controlled fashion. I’m sure they left with much more than pictures and memories. And when the documentaries and features have faded, the performance practice tips and musical ideas they left behind will continue to make a deep impression to their North Korean musical colleagues.

    In June 2008, the Longwood Symphony Orchestra will be taking its own brand of cultural diplomacy to London. An American orchestra made up primarily of health care professionals dedicated to supporting medical nonprofit organizations through concert performance, this tour adds one more aspect. Besides performing a mix of American and British works, LSO musicians themselves will share high-level discussions on cutting edge research around cancer diagnosis, therapy and care with their British medical colleagues.

    Physicians and scientists from Harvard Medical School, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital and others will give lectures and tour cancer research centers during the day, and perform works of Diamond, Copland, Vaughan Williams and Barber in the evenings. The concerts will raise funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care, a charity focused on palliative care.

    This unique exchange of musical and medical ideas will hopefully prove to be a sustainable model that we can ultimately share with colleagues in developing countries. Like our musical colleagues everywhere, I know we will bring home as much as we take to share.

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