PYONGYANG, North Korea (CNN) -- The New York Philharmonic Orchestra is preparing to play a historic concert in North Korea on Tuesday -- but there is no word yet on whether leader Kim Jong Il will attend.
Lorin Maazel conducts the New York Philharmonic Orchestra during a rehearsal Tuesday in Pyongyang.
In a country where music -- like most aspects of life -- is tightly controlled, symbolism will be heavy in the performance. Among the tunes on the play list are "The Star Spangled Banner" and "An American In Paris."
And in the orchestra, a symbol of North Korea's history -- Michelle Kim, who was born in South Korea to parents who fled from the North.
"This might not solve the problems with the U.S. politically but it will be in their hearts as something to remember," said assistant concert master Kim. Musician is a symbol of Korean divide »
Conductor Lorin Maazel added: "I have conducted orchestras in countries where I don't speak the language, but I speak the language of music and so do they. We get along instantly." Watch Maazel speak to reporters Tuesday before the performance »
Tuesday's concert in Pyongyang is part of an extended Asian concert series that has already taken the orchestra to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. The orchestra will perform in South Korea on Thursday.
When the tour was announced in December, orchestra president and executive director Zarin Mehta billed it as "a manifestation of the power of music to unite people."
In December, the orchestra's chairman, Paul Guenther, said he hopes that "the music of the Philharmonic, can, in some way, serve as a catalyst for positive change." Watch as orchestra prepares for performance »
The New York Philharmonic has performed in 420 cities in 58 countries, including a trip to the former Soviet Union in 1959.
At the time of the announcement, the group said it accepted an invitation from North Korea's Ministry of Culture only after discussing it with the U.S. State Department. Take a glimpse into North Korea »
It followed an October announcement by the two nations that they would increase cultural exchanges as part of an agreement on dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
The Philharmonic accepted the North's invitation to play last year with the encouragement of the U.S. government.
North Korea shut down its main nuclear reactor last July and is working to disable it in exchange for aid and removal from U.S. terrorism and sanctions blacklists.
The visit by the Philharmonic comes as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended Monday's inauguration of South Korea's new president, Lee Myung-bak in Seoul. Rice had no plans to stop in Pyongyang during a trip that also takes her to China and Japan.
"I don't think we should get carried away with what listening to Dvorak is going to do in North Korea," Rice, a classical pianist herself, said Friday, in a report from The Associated Press. Rice conceded the benefit of the event in giving North Koreans a window to the outside world.
Musicians preparing for the trip said they hoped personal contacts with North Koreans could help bring the countries closer.
"I think the openness is the most important issue here, and this is going to be the groundbreaking start of the whole thing," Concertmaster Glenn Dicterow said at the Beijing airport in a report from AP. "We're making music together and playing for the people and I think that this will be a great, great contribution." E-mail to a friend
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