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Music to your ears: Koreas sound out joint symphony

Sep 15, 2011, 11:51 p.m.

By Joonhee Yu

SEOUL (Reuters) - Bitter rivals South and North Korea could come together later this year to stage combined orchestral performances in Pyongyang and Seoul, a renowned conductor said on Friday, in another sign of improving relations on the divided peninsula.

Chung Myung-whun, the director of Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, told reporters after a four-day trip to North Korea that an agreement had been reached to try to push for regular joint performances of the two Koreas' symphony orchestras.

"We reached an agreement to hold a joint concert in Pyongyang and Seoul at around December," he said.

"The rest is up to the politicians which I have no say or control over, but hopefully our plan will be realized."

A government official in Seoul said the matter had yet to be discussed. South Koreans must get state approval to travel to North Korea.

Relations between the neighbors, still technically at war after signing only an armistice to end the 1950-53 Korean War, have improved this year after they had been damaged by the killing of 50 South Koreans in two separate attacks on the peninsula last year.

Under pressure from their main allies in Washington and Beijing to iron out their differences, the two Koreas have taken tentative steps toward restarting regional six-party aid-for-denuclearization talks, involving them, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

In July, top diplomats from the two Koreas and the United States held what they called "constructive" talks, their first such interaction in about two years.

Pyongyang has said it is willing to return to six-party talks without preconditions, but Seoul and Washington demand that the North must first halt its uranium enrichment program and allow the return of international nuclear inspectors.

Chung said there was no political motive behind his visit to Pyongyang, adding: "I just wanted to interact with my fellow North Korean musicians on a deep level, artistic level."

He said he worked closely with local musicians while in the North's capital, conducting rehearsals and auditions as well as meeting officials from the cultural bureau.

The 59-year-old maestro left the door open to further visits and cultural exchanges with North Korea, saying he had also agreed with officials there to cultivate musical talent and support the development of young prodigies.

"I don't realistically hope that this might bring any changes to the North Korean system, though I did make some genuine, individual connections through our shared love for music.

"We'll see where that takes us from here in terms of progress, but as musicians, politics plays no part in what we do."

(Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Yoko Nishikawa)

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