You remember the “ping-pong diplomacy” of the Nixon years? Well, get ready for a little bit of “violin diplomacy”, with news that the New York Philharmonic Orchestra has landed in Pyongyang, the capital of the most politically isolated state on earth, North Korea. The Boston Globe reports and uses the occasion to look back at other episodes of cultural diplomacy:
CHINAApril 1971 — The U.S. Table Tennis Team accepts a surprise invitation from China, making the group the first American non-communist delegation allowed into China since the communist takeover in 1949. This “pingpong diplomacy” helps lay the path for President Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China the following year.1979 — Acclaimed violinist Isaac Stern embarks on a cultural tour of China in which he performs and mentors young Chinese musicians, encounters that are chronicled in an Oscar-winning documentary, “Mozart to Mao.”IRAN1998 — Iran’s soccer team charms Americans by giving the U.S. players flowers before defeating them 2-1 at the World Cup. A brief blossoming of academic, cultural and other outreach followed, but dried up amid political shifts in Iran and the United States.
SOVIET UNION AND EASTERN EUROPE
1989 — As the Berlin Wall is torn down, Soviet exile and renowned cellist Mstislav Rostropovich plays Bach cello suites amid the rubble. The next year, Rostropovich makes a triumphant return to Russia to perform with Washington’s National Symphony Orchestra, where he was music director from 1977 to 1994.
November 1987 — Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck travels to the Soviet Union, performing at the summit of President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
1960 — The American Ballet Theatre goes to the Soviet Union, the first American dance company sent to that country. Two years later, the New York City Ballet follows.