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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

OK, with a drink in hand, and that music as inspiration, let's move on to some of the best music of 2008. Our commentators in the last few days have picked their favorite jazz, kids' music, an unknown rock record, their favorite world music, and now we turn to classical music. John Schaefer of member station WNYC says his favorite classical moment of 2008 was not on CD; it was documented on a DVD.

JOHN SCHAEFER: The funny thing about 2008 is that it really was a year not so much for releases, but for bigger news in the classical music world. And for me the big story, which leads to the big recording of the year...

(Soundbite of applause)

SCHAEFER: Was the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang, North Korea, back in February.

(Soundbite of New York Philharmonic evening concert, Pyongyang, North Korea, February 26, 2008)

(Soundbite of song "American in Paris")

SCHAEFER: The orchestra rose to the occasion and played with a lot of spirit. The orchestra was clearly into it. Lorin Maazel was having a great time, even as he was clearly aware of the significance of the event. And in terms of the actual music on the program, it was an unusual choice. The Gershwin "American in Paris" gave Lorin Maazel a chance to crack a joke about maybe someday in the future, "Americans in Pyongyang" will be written.

(Soundbite of song "American in Paris")

SCHAEFER: What most people don't realize is that there were actually two performances that day. There was the evening concert, which was the one that had all the dignitaries and the one that got all of the coverage. There was also an afternoon concert, which was meant to be a dress rehearsal. But in the city of Pyongyang, there was so much interest they opened the doors and basically did their dress rehearsal as a full-on concert in front of a packed house. So, I think what we have on this DVD is a slightly edited version of the evening concert with some of - I'm guessing - some of the afternoon performance edited in to cover up some of the inevitable glitches that happen.

(Soundbite of New York Philharmonic evening concert, Pyongyang, North Korea, February 26, 2008)

(Soundbite of song "American in Paris")

SCHAEFER: The real moment where it all came together was at the very end of the concert, a final encore, when Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic did an arrangement of the beloved Korean folk song "Arirang."

(Soundbite of song "Arirang")

SCHAEFER: I don't think there was a dry eye in the house when they finished playing this piece, the audience waving to the New York Philharmonic musicians as they began to leave the stage, and then the musicians, caught by surprise, waving back with tears in their eyes. It was a remarkable moment and a true kind of meeting of cultures through this piece of music.

(Soundbite of song "Arirang")

SCHAEFER: The immediate impact of this was to put the New York Philharmonic, to put classical music, on the mass media stage around the world in a way that is unparalleled in recent years. And so, for me, the significance of this recording is not just great music beautifully played; it's great music beautifully played, and the world was watching.

(Soundbite of song "Arirang")

INSKEEP: To hear John Schaefer's full list of the best classical releases of the year and the other best-of-2008 lists, just go to nprmusic.org. And let's listen to some more right now.

(Soundbite of song "Arirang")

INSKEEP: It's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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