Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another wall cracks

March 12, 2008

As a young student, I was in Germany, shortly after the Berlin Wall was erected.

I have a vivid memory of standing in West Berlin, next to a German student whose family was on the east side of that wall; her angst at being cut off from them.

Later during that stay, a group of students took a train out into the countryside to hear a symphony. It was to be directed by a conductor who that evening was escorted by police from East Berlin who allowed a limited engagement, under guard, to direct that night only. The guards remained during the entire performance.

The German students with whom I attended that concert were visibly uneasy that night. It was a bittersweet moment for them; a shivering moment of reality for us.

I thought about them recently listening to the New York Philharmonic play before an audience in North Korea. I wanted to be in the audience that night. Instead I watched it on public television.

With the downbeat of concert master Maaazel's baton, the audience rose as one and remained standing in a moment sacred and profound as the strains of the national anthems of Korea and the United States flowed from the instruments of the symphony.

Throughout the evening that included Dvorak's Symphony No. 9, From the New World, Gershwin's "An American in Paris" and encores by Bizet and Gershwin, the camera scanned the audience and therein revealed the listening soul.

The haunting lilt of the oboe and echo of the French horn spoke a universal language; the dancing notes of the piccolo and the melancholy cry of the violins beckoned and moved the audience in uneven measure, but fell upon them as unseen glitter, drifting on the shoulder of each of them, American or Korean. Unseen, perhaps even barely detectable but everlasting were the notes of music that cut across a cultural divide that night; perhaps cut a swath to another night of such exchanges.

The final encore piece: "Arirang," a Korean folk song, found members of the audience mouthing the words as the music played. If you lead, they seemed to say, I will follow. The camera made one final pass around the room. From the back of the audience hall, three members of the audience began waving to the symphony players; three of whom stood and waved back. There is a yearning in the human soul that seems to say: call to me and I will answer; touch me and I will respond; reaching one another through the universal language of music. Another wall may one day crack and fall.

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