A premier North Korean orchestra headed to Paris on Friday for an unusual collaboration with French musicians and a South Korean conductor.
Musicians from Pyongyang's Unhasu Orchestra will team up with Chung Myung-whun, who is principal conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic and serves as musical director of the Radio France Philharmonic.
Paris and Pyongyang do not have formal diplomatic relations, but France opened an office in North Korea last year to foster cultural exchanges.
The performance later this month comes amid warming ties between North Korea and the West after years of tension over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Last week, the United States and North Korea announced a deal that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid, and a senior North Korean nuclear envoy is in New York this week to attend a university forum.
Chung has said he wanted to hold a joint performance involving musicians from rival North and South Korea. But with still tensions still high between the two Koreas, he arranged to bring the Unhasu Orchestra to Paris instead after rehearsing with them in Pyongyang last month.
For most of the North Koreans, it will be their first time performing overseas with a Western orchestra.
Toting a kayagum, a stringed instrument native to Korea, musician Jo Ok Ju told The Associated Press she hoped to give Western audiences a taste of traditional Korean music.
Said first violinist Mun Kyong Jin: "Despite differing languages, we hope that we can easily understand each other through music and become friends."
The North Korean orchestra, whose name means "milky way," is led by Kwon Hyok Bong, adviser to the Korean Traditional Music Institute. Unhasu is one of North Korea's most elite orchestras, performing for new leader Kim Jong Un on Thursday before their departure for Paris, according to state media.
Radio France, hosting the March 14 concert, said it agreed to do so because it will serve the public at large and could encourage peace between the Koreas by leading to more cultural exchanges.
"Music can be a key that opens the path to dialogue and brings down barriers earlier considered insurmountable," Radio France said in a statement Friday.
The statement also says this is the first time that a North Korean orchestra is coming to Europe.
France's Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand is backing the joint concert.
Associated Press writers Kim Kwang Hyon and Pak Won Il contributed to this report from Pyongyang.