May 8, 2017
His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia.
Her Majesty the Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk of Cambodia.
Members of the royal families, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It is truly an honor for Sotie and I to be here this evening in the presence of His Majesty the King and the Queen Mother.
Sixty years ago tomorrow, the United States Air Force Band performed a concert in Phnom Penh under the patronage of Their Majesties Late King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Sisowath Monivong Kossomak Nearireath Serei Watana. According to newspaper reports from that time, it was quite an event.
The evening began with a champagne dinner hosted by the Foreign Minister with members of the diplomatic corps. After dinner, the band performed outside in front of the Royal Palace for the King and Queen and thousands of Cambodians, with many more listening by radio. When the band finished, the King asked the Cambodian Arts Ensemble to perform for the American band members. The show lasted until 11:00 p.m.
Many happy moments like this have taken place over the years, and most are destined to be forgotten. But this one was not, thanks to our friend Anton Isselhardt of the ArtPlus Foundation.
Somehow Anton found an obscure bulletin from July 1956 reporting that several members of the U.S. Air Force band were honored in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, in the presence of Cambodian Ambassador to the United States Nong Kimny.
With that small bit of evidence we began to piece together the story of the 1956 concert. And the more we discovered, the more we wanted to recreate the magic of that night.
We naturally reached out to the same United States Air Force Band that performed here 60 years ago. And we are privileged to welcome four members of the Air Force Band String Quartet, based in Washington, DC, who will be joined by some special guests.
Tonight we are going to hear two pieces performed for the very first time at that concert in May 1956. They hold a special place in the hearts of Cambodians, as they were composed by His Majesty Late King Norodom Sihanouk. These are his Suite Cambodienne and Sakrava.
We will also hear some selections by distinguished American and European composers.
We hope that the beautiful music we will hear tonight will serve as a reminder of the bonds of friendship between the people of the United States and Cambodia, which extend back for many decades and are stronger now than ever.
Before I conclude, I would like to extend a special welcome to U.S. Air Force Major General Gary Sayler, Commanding General of the Idaho National Guard, and his colleagues. I am delighted General Saylor was able to adjust his travel dates so that he could join us for this special occasion featuring members of the U.S. Air Force Band.
I would also like to thank our performers, our organizing partners, and our friends at the Raffles Hotel.
And most of all, I would like to thank all of you for helping to make this another night to remember. Please enjoy the show.
Thank you very much.