Shall we Tango?

Written by on October 5, 2011 in Arts, Korea Abroad

* This post is written by Chloe Hwang, one of the Korean Cultural Service in New York’s Cultural Reporters

A review of <It Takes Two to Tango> at Gallery Korea and short interview with Ben Byung-Hyun Rhee from the Camerata Virtuosi of NJ

Photo Credit © Ryan Oh_CVNJ

Photo Credit © Ryan Oh_CVNJ

In the pluralistic world of music, each genre can be visualized for its idiosyncrasy. Close your eyes and imagine two passionate lovers. Ignite their romance and desire for intimacy. Tantalize them but let them follow their seductive instincts. Then, see if you can hear familiar melodies of Piazzolla’s famous Libertango.

It was last Friday at Gallery Korea where these images were brought to life. With the Korean Cultural Services New York and Camerata Virtuosi of New Jersey co-presenting, the 2nd KCSNY Summer Music Festival returned with greater exhilaration and professionalism. The concert, <It Takes Two to Tango>, was all about the sultry tango music performed by top-notch musicians. Seven chamber ensemble musicians from CVNJ, together with the New York City Opera baritone Kyung-Mook Yum and oboist Kyungmi Bae Chung took New Yorkers on an enchanting music journey.

Similar to last year’s <One Summer Night>, <Summer Lucky Seven>, and <Summer Romance>, this year’s <It Takes Two to Tango> was characterized by an interactive performance based upon a high degree of musical skill and expertise. Ben Byung-Hyun Rhee, a former associate conductor of Nashville Symphony Orchestra and founder of CVNJ elaborated, “We have been preparing for this concert since last year in order to present the best selections of classical music. We were inspired by ‘Free Dance Night Stages’ throughout the United States where everyone comes outside and mingles with beautiful music on hot summer nights. Tango music, despite its level of complexity, seemed ideal to create fellow feelings among the audience – the melodies should ring a bell.”

Needless to say, the performances were met with great quality and applause. One piece after another, the way they built suspense and heightened the dramatic effect was simply breathtaking. The extensive uses of crescendo and decrescendo, percussion instruments, and low, deep ranges of piano sounds were especially glamorized throughout the night. The audience shouted out “Bravo!” every once in a while and burst into cheers as Yum finished singing Core ‘ngrato. Furthermore, the festival didn’t only present an auditory delight, but also a visual one with the performers wearing black and red clothes, matching the theme of the night.

Concluding the concert was the modern interpretation of “Gyeongbokgung Taryeong.” It beautifully juxtaposed its traditional melodies with taut tango rhythms. The finale interacted with everyone in attendance regardless of their ethnicity or musical tastes. From stillness to suspense and darkness to jubilation, the variations of tango didn’t merely seem like one genre of music, but rather as a love story, cultural experience, and a reflection of an individual. As Rhee added, it might be true that “We can never have enough of tango.”

A few more words with Ben Byung-Hyun Rhee

– What is the Camerata Virtuosi of New Jersey in pursuit of?

“Music for everyone. Since the beginning, we wanted to perform where- and whenever music can be heard. From duet to full orchestra, we strive to develop repertoires from the audience’s perspectives. With our strong emphasis on high-quality performances, CVNJ wishes to spread the prestigious art form of classical music.”

– What is your philosophy as a conductor?
“I have always been and will never stop asking myself, ‘What is conducting?’ But I always conduct with the intent to serve others on- and off-stage. Have you realized a conductor is the only individual who doesn’t produce any sounds during an orchestrated concert? It implies that a conductor doesn’t exist without the composers and performers. My struggle to become a better conductor with a better understanding of music will never stop. Unlike jazz characterized by improvisation and impromptu works, classic seems to have a frame that limits creativity. But freedom within the frame – That’s something I am responsible to bring out. In other words, conductors are pioneers who lead the performers to a place where there exist infinite opportunities and freedoms of musical expressions.”

– Conductors stand towards the stage with their backs towards the audience. While keeping your back to the audience, how do you communicate with them?
“It’s an interesting question – Well, it’s true that the audience rarely see my facial expressions, the way I communicate with the performers. However, we conductors convey inspiration to the performers who create sounds, and the resulting sounds are passed onto the audience. The method is simply different, more indirect. Although it’s one of few occupations working on their backs, I hardly feel cut off or consensually blocked. I feel the music and talk with instruments.”

– What is CVNJ’s plan for the future?
“This coming October, we will be performing with a world-renowned pianist, Choong Mo Kang, in celebration of his ground-breaking appointment as a professor of piano at the Julliard School. Other upcoming events include the International Piano Competition in January 2012 and Europe concert tour in 2013. We also aspire to travel around the world, serve the community, and disseminate the beauty of classical music culture. Please support us as we hope to go beyond the New York metropolitan area into the world and inspire people by building monuments in their minds.”

For more information on the Camerata Virtuosi of New Jersey, please visit

About the Author

Starting in May 2011, we have been the first class of the Korean Cultural Service New York’s cultural reporters to help promote the uniqueness of Korean culture to New York City -- the world’s cultural hub. As cultural reporters in New York City, we first take on challenges and initiatives to report about dynamic Korean culture to the metropolitan area, but we project that we will eventually reach beyond just New Yorkers to raise awareness about Korean culture to the world.