By Donald Kirk| Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitorfrom the February 29, 2008 edition
Seoul, South Korea - The visit to Pyongyang this week by the New York Philharmonic - and American patrons of the orchestra - provided their North Korean hosts with an unaccustomed show of defiance.
During one of the carefully scripted tours of the capital prior to Tuesday's concert, two dozen well-to-do Philharmonic patrons surprised their omnipresent guides by refusing to toss flowers before the enormous statue of the late "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, father of the current leader, Kim Jong Il.
"They offered us flowers at the hotel to put in front of the statue," says G. Chris Andersen, founding partner of GC Andersen Partners, a New York investment banking firm. "We declined that opportunity, saying we don't do that in our country."
That small act of defiance was one sign of an ambivalence shared by many of the more than 100 musicians, who flew to South Korea to give the final concert of the tour Thursday. While deeply moved by extraordinary displays of hospitality as well as the cheers of the audience, some of the musicians were uncomfortable about playing in a nation suffering from lack of food as well as political persecution.
"How many millions of people could be fed with all they spent on us," asks Enrico DiCCecco, a violinist in his 47th year with the orchestra. "What killed us," he says, is knowing that Kim Jong Il "is starving his own people."