Photo/IllutrationThe Samjiyon Band, which is believed to have close relations with the Samjiyon orchestra, performs in Pyongyang in March 2017. The Samjiyon orchestra plans to hold two shows in South Korea this month. (Provided by Korea News Service)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea--Applications have outnumbered available tickets by up to a 468:1 ratio for performances by a mysterious North Korean orchestra this month in South Korea.

South Korea is within days of hosting the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, yet the hottest ticket could be for the two Games-related performances by the Samjiyon orchestra, which is expected to consist of 140 members and be the largest North Korea art troupe ever dispatched to South Korea.

The orchestra will be led by Hyon Song Wol, head of the all-female Moranbong Band, which was set up under the initiative of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

However, the Samjiyon orchestra has seldom appeared in North Korean media. And the mysteries surrounding the orchestra have fueled curiosity as well as applications for the free tickets in South Korea.

“It is a rare opportunity for us to be able to listen to North Korea’s live music,” a public servant said in Seoul.

Tickets are only available in pairs for the two performances. Admission is free.

The Samjiyon orchestra is scheduled to first perform at the Art Center in Gangneung in the eastern part of South Korea on Feb. 8, a day before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.

For that show, 39,000 applications were received for the 280 pairs of tickets, a ratio of 139:1, according to a ticket sales company.

Gangneung will also be used as a venue for Olympic ice sports.

For the orchestra’s performance at the National Theater in Seoul on Feb. 11, 117,000 applied for 250 pairs of tickets, or a ratio of 468:1, according to the company.

Overall, 156,000 applications were received for 530 pairs of tickets, a ratio of 290:1.

The deadline for applications was Feb. 3.

Lotteries will be held to decide who gets to go to the shows. The names of the winners are scheduled to be announced on Feb. 6.

The two Koreas agreed to hold the Samjiyon orchestra’s performances in South Korea in working-level negotiations held on Jan. 15.

People in South Korea who have been separated from their relatives in North Korea will be invited to the performances.

The content of the Samjiyon orchestra’s shows are still unknown.

An official of the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism only said, “The North explained that the performances will consist of folk songs that match the atmosphere of (Korean) unification and are well known in those countries, as well as famous songs around the world.”

The South Korean government has become somewhat nervous ahead of the orchestra’s shows. Seoul was criticized for offering too much service to Hyon when she visited South Korea in January in preparation for the performances. The government even provided a special train for her.

With that criticism in mind, an official of South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Feb. 1, “We will not pay performance fees or give other benefits to North Korea (for the Samjiyon orchestra’s performances).”