Suzannah Clarke’s musical diplomacy

Suzannah ClarkeA while ago I posted about Jason Carter’s trip to Pyongyang to participate in the annual Friendship Festival. While in Pyongyang, Carter met up with Middlesborough opera diva Suzannah Clarke, who has been performing at the Friendship Festival every year since 2003.

Clarke’s North Korean connection is through football. She’s had a long association with the beautiful game, warming up the crowds at Wembley at the opening celebrations for Euro 96. She also sang at the England – Albania world cup qualifier recently, singing the Albanian national anthem in the language it for which it was written.

In 2001, while filming The Game of their Lives, Nick Bonner and Dan Gordon brought the surviving members of the 1966 North Korean soccer team to visit Middlesbrough, the scene for their dramatic victory over Italy. Clarke welcomed them in their language singing the North Korean Song of Friendship at Middlesbrough FC’s new ground the Riverside Stadium.

Suzannah Clarke in Pyongyang

Suzannah Clarke in Pyongyang – from www.suzannahclarke.co.uk

This was the beginning of a remarkable relationship which is continuing not only with concerts but also with fundraising. Clarke has raised money to buy musical instruments for North Korean schools, and now she is hoping to bring a North Korean orchestra over to London next year.

Thus reports Michael Rank, who came across Suzannah at a Chatham House talk earlier this year. He recently profiled her in the Asia Times Online, where he also notes the seemingly universal popularity of Danny Boy (a lollipop performed by Clarke in Pyongyang and recently by South Korean tenor Lim Hyung-joo at St John’s Smith Square)

Clarke’s site has a page devoted to her North Korean connections:

The North Korean government granted Suzannah access to see the work of the World Food Programme and she visited hospitals, kindergartens, schools and local council meetings.

We wish her well with her plans to bring the Pyongyang orchestra to the west – a not inconsiderable funding challenge.

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