Sunday, August 14, 2016

Silk Road Ensemble enthralls capacity crowd at Blossom

Culture matters!

It was a soggy night at Blossom, but neither the rain nor the humidity dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd that filled the pavilion and covered much of the lawn for the Saturday, August 13 evening concert of the Silk Road Ensemble.

Anyone attending who thought they were seeing a traditional Cleveland Orchestra concert were immediately altered to “this is going to be something different” by the lack of the usual seating arrangement for the orchestra and a stage filled with Chinese gongs, as well as a tabla, kamancheh, Galician bagpipes, shakuhachi, pipa, sheng, and suona.  Don’t know what those instruments are?  Have never heard them played? That’s part of the purpose for the Silk Road Ensemble.

Silkroad was founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to explore how the arts can advance global understanding.  His purpose was to “connect the world through the arts.” He wanted to “promote cross-cultural education, business, and the arts” to transform the world.  “Silkroad is a connector and bridge builder; the Ensemble’s music is vitally reflective of our shared humanity and our global trajectories, and plays a natural role in the need for greater cross-cultural exchange.”

Ma, a Julliard School and Harvard University trained cellist, has led the group to commission more than 80 works, as well as a yearly annual tour and educational programs.

With an emphasis on celebrating differences and cultivating curiosity in exploring and sharing, the Blossom program presented fourteen compositions, divided into seven sections.  Included were musical modes and rhythmic sounds covering such global areas as the Yangtze River, the Czech homeland of Antonin Dvor├ík ,  West Africa, Ireland, Japan, sub-Arctic Scandinavia, Finland, the Bengali-speaking regions of the Brahmaputra River, New York, the land of the Roma gypsies, Spain, and Syria.

Silkroad intends to weave together the foreign and familiar into a new musical language, “which embraces our differences and celebrates the joy we find in one another.”  This is based on the belief that “art , in all its forms, opens windows on the world and offers new ways to connect in the face of fragmentation and friction.”

This was not a Yo-Yo Ma concert.  It was an exposure to music of the world, presented through solo and blended works of seventeen extraordinary musicians.  It is music that  has been highlighted in “The Music of Strangers,” a 2015 one-and-a-half-hour documentary from Oscar-winner, Morgan Neville, that captures five of the many individual journeys of Silkroad.

The group’s newest recording is “Sing Me Home,” in which Silkroad musicians reflect on the meaning of home, interpreting original and traditional folk songs.  Many of those selections were included in the recent Blossom concert.

Capsule judgment: From the opening “duel” between Christina Pato’s Galician bagpipes and Wu Ton’s suona (Chinese horn) to the creation of train sounds in the fascinating arrangement of “Take the ‘A’ Train” by percussion and pipa (four-string Chinese musical instrument marvelously played by Wu Man), and “Wedding,” the third and final movement of Kinan Azmeh’s 2007 Syrian composition for clarinet, oud (an 11 to 12 string pear-shaped instrument) and vocalization (the well-tuned singing voice of  Wu Tong), the program grabbed and held the audience’s attention.  Bravo!

Upcoming:  The 2016 Blossom season comes to a conclusion with:
“The Music of Led Zeppelin (August 20), Orpheus Plays Bach (August 27) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (September 3-4)

For Blossom tickets call 216-231-1111 or go to