[ON STAGE]In Seoul, It Takes 4 to Tango

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[ON STAGE]In Seoul, It Takes 4 to Tango

"Tango is a music of deep undercurrents," said Yo-Yo Ma, the premier cellist, in the foreword to his 1997 album "Yo-Yo Ma: Soul of the Tango." That album, a collection of compositions by the Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla, drew a connection between the histories of the tango and the Argentine people.

Now, a local musical quartet, the Seoul Fusion Ensemble, is giving Piazzolla fans in Korea the chance to experience live renditions of many of his major works. Tittled "First Tango: Play on Piazzolla," the plain quartet - piano, cello, contrabass and saxophone - is presenting hour-long performances at an intimate local venue.

In fact, Latin music has earned a following in Korea recently, mostly in modern styles such as salsa and meringue. By contrast, the tango has a deeper and richer history, and as an art form it is much more sophisticated.

But Piazzolla, who died in 1992, became disenchanted with the development of the dance toward the end of his life. Once, in an interview with the Chilean press, he said that tango no longer existed, at least not in Buenos Aires, where he grew up. He said the city was showing more flair in its punk rock and heavy metal scenes. "The current tango is just a nostalgic and dull imitation of the old times," he said.

Perhaps the master was acutely aware of the musical changes taking place in his country. In 1977, when Buenos Aires officially designated Dec. 11 as national "Tango Day," the spirit of the tango there was already beginning to slip.

Also, Piazzolla may have had a vision of how his compositions would be abused today, at least in Korea: as background music for low budget TV commercials and soap operas. But recently, in addition to Yo-Yo Ma, many other musical luminaries have been paying tribute to Piazzolla, such as Gidon Kremer and the Kronos Quartet.

The stage at Theater Choo, the cozy locale for the performances, is just six meters wide. The venue, seating only about 100, is reminiscent of the classic cafes Koreans used to frequent in the '80s, where clubs would play vinyl LPs and patrons moseyed up to the DJ to make requests and back to their tables to sip coffee.

Such a chance to hear Piazzolla played live doesn't come along often. And if you go, don't forget to take a partner. For more info, call 02-538-5836 (English available).

by Park Soo-mee

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