BEIJING (Reuters) - The New York Philharmonic arrives in Pyongyang on Monday to play the symphony "From the New World" in an overture to thaw still frozen ties from the Cold War era between the United States and North Korea.
The unprecedented visit comes as international pressure mounts on the communist state to stop dragging its heels and stick to its side of a deal to eventually discard its nuclear weapons programme.
The oldest U.S. orchestra will stay in North Korea for about 48 hours that will culminate in a concert on Tuesday featuring the works of Antonin Dvorak's New World symphony and George Gershwin's "An American in Paris".
It is not known if the North's enigmatic and bouffant-haired leader Kim Jong-il will attend the concert, but analysts said the North's propaganda machine is almost certain to spin the event as U.S. homage to a man Washington accuses of sponsoring terrorism.
"This is a sign of prestige. It can be presented to the public as Westerners paying tribute to the Dear Leader," said Andrei Lankov, of the South's Kookmin University who specialises on North Korea.
Lankov, who has studied in the North , said the visit was not likely to change the views of the general and leading cadres expected to be in the audience but it could change perceptions among the small class of intellectual elite in the impoverished country.
"North Korea needs isolation to control their population," Lankov said.
"I am not saying the North Korean regime will collapse or be frightened by one such visit, but hundreds and thousands of exchanges like that will greatly contribute to promoting change within North Korea."
The two states have no formal diplomatic ties, are technically still at war and have troops staring each other down across the heavily fortified border that has divided North and South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease fire.
The New York Philharmonic will be the biggest group from the United States since North Korea seized the U.S. spy ship Pueblo 40 years ago and held its 82 crew members for months.
The team were due to leave Beijing on a South Korean chartered plane at 0500 GMT on Monday for the two-hour flight to Pyongyang.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz, editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Sanjeev Miglani)