Friday, March 20, 2009

The Silk Road Project

Part of the joy of going to the concert for The Silk Road Project was seeing so many different instruments come together on stage - the cello, bass and violin with the more exotic pipa, tar and kamancheh - played by virtuoso musicians from around the world.

Yo Yo Ma is the Artistic Director and the group is celebrating their 10th anniversary. Toronto was the last stop on this year's North American tour.

Back in 1998 Ma began probing the musical connections between Europe and Asia in a think tank he founded and called the Silk Road Project. Today, the ensemble comprises 60 musicians from Asia and Europe, although performances by the group usually feature only about a dozen at a time.

The Globe and Mail review titled "Rich, Challenging - but more Ma, please."

To be sure, all the musicians in the Silk Road Ensemble are virtuosos. However, one player should be singled out - as a disappointment. Because the concert was billed as "The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma," some audience members may have hoped for more than a token showing from the group's illustrious leader. Ma played no real solos, spoke no words and made himself as unobtrusive as possible...... If this was a gesture of modesty, it was misplaced.
It's true, I originally bought the tickets because I am a huge Yo Yo Ma fan, but although he took a supporting role in the evening and never assumed centre stage, I forgot it was him I'd originally come to see, because the introduction to these other musicians overwhelmed any disappointment.

The Toronto Star reported "The program started with three instrumental pieces that mixed new music with opportunities for traditional instrument solos: the Chinese sheng (mouth organ) and pipa (lute) in Ritmos Anchinos; the Indian tabla (drums) in Sulvasutra; and the full melting pot in Turceasca, a new arrangement of traditional Roma rhythms and dances.

The rest of the meaty evening was devoted to a fresh take on Layla and Majnun, a 1908 Azerbaijani opera on a theme of doomed love. Featuring vocalists Alim and Fargana Qasimov, it was a case of love's loss being music's gain. If this is the future of world music, we have much to celebrate and look forward to."

One of the instruments new to me was the cajone. The percussionist straddles the drum as he plays... it made me think it must be a pleasure to make music this way.

You Tube has some great clips.
The Silk Road Project, The Road to Beijing has interviews with Yo Yo and many of the other musicians, as well as shots of many of the instruments.

Sandeep Das, tabla player, is effusive in his praise about how the music of other cultures opened his heart. This virtuoso has been playing the tabla since he was 8 years old but hadn't heard many Western string instruments before he was introduced to the Silk Road Project. Last night he filled the entire Roy Thompson Hall with the joy and passion he radiated through his tabla. When he palmed the skin it sounded like he was actually making it speak.

Wu Man is another maestro. She played relentlessly through the entire program and used the pipa to punctuate musical laughter or lay a bed of mystery. She also makes an appearance in the Beijing clip.

These few hours of introduction have opened the doors to a lot of new sounds and places... and future travels along the Silk Road.

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