A few weeks ago WikiLeaks published cables sent by American diplomats who were reporting back to the government on events and people of interest to the United States. The reports are incredibly detailed (we can now confirm that, yes, the president of Turkmenistan did get two extra pineapples on his fruit plate in 1997), which can make for a tedious read.
Put a few classical music keywords in the search box, however, and nuclear-weapon panic gives way to the curious mixture of social chess, pageantry theater and "Fawlty Towers" that is cultural diplomacy.
If the reporting diplomat happens to be a good writer, the extra detail creates a vivid and at times extremely entertaining picture.
Classical music is mentioned most often when the diplomat is discussing an individual's openness to Western culture, his level of sophistication and the cultural health of a region in transition.
It is surprising to discover how classical music performances are used to introduce foreign audiences to American culture. An explanation comes from pianist Michael Sheppard, who won a classical fellowship with the American Pianists Assn. in 2003. The prize included a State Department-sponsored tour of Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Syria, which led to Sheppard's name showing up in a cable.