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THE HERALD-TIMES: MUSIC REVIEW: SILK ROAD PAVED WITH FABRIC OF MUSICAL GENIUS


March 20, 2013

The attraction was billed “The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma,” and that, indeed, was truth in packaging for what one experienced at the Indiana University Auditorium Monday evening.

Ma’s worldwide fame as cellist undoubtedly did much to cause a ticket rush that resulted in what appeared to be a full house, but he was just one among 15 equals as performer. Indeed, in the program listing, his name alphabetically and democratically appears 10th, just after Kayhan Kalhor, who plays the kamancheh, a Persian bowed instrument, and played it superbly, and Cristina Pato, an equally brilliant artist on both piano and gaita, a Galician bagpipe.

As artistic director of The Silk Road Ensemble (and its founder), Ma selects several periods of the year to tour not as solo cellist but as member of his carefully selected circle of Silk Road musicians to promote the importance of the arts as a means to bring peoples of the world together, just as the historic Silk Road did for centuries through commercial and cultural exchange. He chose Bloomington as one of the ensemble’s destinations on the current tour, and from the roars that kept ensuing throughout the evening, this reviewer can assume that, like him, those present considered the music a gift for the memory.

One could hear the Ma cello distinctly only once, and even then in a supporting role, as Kojiro Umezaki, a shakuhachi virtuoso (Japanese end-blown bamboo flute), not only played that instrument dramatically but narrated “Tsuru no Ongaeshi” — in English, “Repayment from a Crane” — a heartwarming folk tale from Japan about a crane rewarding an old couple for having saved its life. Ma’s cello and some light percussion underscored flute and story.

Elsewhere, Ma faded into the fabric of the whole, but such a whole it was, with every player contributing significantly to an array of compositions that highlighted musical traditions from all over. Interestingly, all of the music heard, though often echoing distant pasts, was contemporary, having been commissioned or re-interpreted.

Umezaki provided the program’s opening item, “Side In Side Out,” based on a range of influences such as a Kabuki play and a movement from Mahler’s Symphony Number 5. It proved a suitable showcase for all the musicians to be heard on their instruments and gave listeners a clue of how harmoniously string instruments one hears in a classical orchestra can blend with those from artistic heritages far and wide.

Violinist Colin Jacobsen, having visited an ancient fire temple in Iran, expressed the vivid encounter in “Atashgah,” a hypnotic score designed for Western strings and kamancheh, that previously mentioned Persian bowed instrument. One could sense the fire crackling and blazing and captivating the mind, just as the music did.

Wild rhythms and impassioned melodies marked “Silk Road Suite — Music of the Roma,” a collection of forages into lands inhabited by Gypsies, from India to Eastern Europe. Again, the music celebrated virtuosity, a highlight served up by Sandeep Das, who thumped magic with his fingers on tabla, a pair of Indian drums.

Jazz in various interpretations got its proper due in “Playlist for an Extreme Occasion,” by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer, an opportunity for members of the ensemble to voice a buffet of differing styles and moods.

The concert ended with “Suite from Book of Angels,” a set of Silk Road Ensemble arrangements of short pieces by American composer John Zorn. Influenced by Zorn’s Jewish heritage, the music — as translated by the ensemble — suffused the Auditorium’s atmosphere at times with the plaintive and the poignant, at other times with sensuous, joyous celebration. Everything was accomplished stunningly.

Yo-Yo Ma’s aim to bring unity through music surely made its case. This visit by his remarkably talented band of musicians, his Silk Road Ensemble, was a welcome sprinkling of uplift. May he and may they return.


Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013

 

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