GANGNEUNG, South Korea: A 137-strong North Korean orchestra kicked off its first performance in South Korea on Thursday, serenading hundreds of South Koreans with familiar tunes while dozens of protesters blasted their own music outside, to the beat of drums.
The Samjiyon Band's performance comes a day before South Korea opens its first Winter Olympics, amid a thaw in ties with North Korea highlighted by the first visit by its leader Kim Jong Un's sister, who is set to arrive on Friday.
Performing in the coastal city of Gangneung, the art troupe played songs from both North and South Korea, as well as a medley of Western tunes, including one from Broadway musical 'Phantom of the Opera'.
"We came because it's a historic moment and perhaps the only opportunity for exchanges between North and South Korea," said South Korean Choi Kyung-in, 54, standing beside her daughter.
The band is Pyongyang's main art troupe and has previously been seen performing pieces from American animation movies such as "Beauty and the Beast," and "The Lion King."
The performance is the first by North Koreans in the South since 2000, when another orchestra crossed the border for a joint concert to mark Korea's Liberation Day on Aug. 15.
Confusion and arguments over some designated seats in the audience caused a 10-minute delay in the Gangneung Arts Center.
More than 150,000 South Koreans entered a lottery for tickets to the two performances the North Korean troupe will hold in South Korea. A random selection saw 780 winners receive two tickets each, the government said in a statement.
A total of 812 people attended Thursday's show, among them 252 special invitees picked separately by the government.
About five minutes away from the concert hall, 80 protesters staged a demonstration in sub-zero temperatures, blasting out songs opposing the Pyeongchang Olympics and beating on drums.
A barricade of about 100 police kept the protesters away from the performance site.
"They are here to make fools of South Koreans, and I cannot accept that," said 71-year-old Kwon Oh-seok, adding that he had travelled from Seoul, the capital, to protest against the performance.
South Korea temporarily lifted a ban on North Korean ships to allow the Mangyongbong 92 ferry, carrying the troupe to enter the eastern port of Mukho on Monday.
The North's orchestra will stage its second and last performance in Seoul on Sunday.