Silk Road Ensemble the musical experience of a lifetime
Yo-Yo Ma leads group at Symphony Hall filled with diverse talent and unrestrained joy
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On March 4, Symphony Hall hosted a fantastic Celebrity Series concert in which Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble delivered an extraordinarily exuberant performance rounded out with a collection of compositions so diverse that a listener could easily get confused as to whether he or she were listening to an Indian ballad or an Irish jig.
Ma founded the group as a nonprofit organization in 1998 in an effort to create meaningful change at the intersection of the arts, education, and business. Loved as much internationally as they are right here in Boston, the group has now performed with Celebrity Series at Boston Symphony Hall five times. The Boston Globe declared them a “roving musical laboratory without walls.” Silk Road has travelled extensively internationally, delivering a masterfully musical experience to audiences everywhere.
Occasionally the group is led by conductor Eric Jacobsen, but for the most part the musicians all simply play together as equals. Even Ma, as the founder of the group and its most famous member, doesn’t make an effort to stand out more than the other performers.
New performers can be seen to step onstage and join the ensemble for particular pieces, while for other numbers, all but three or four musicians may leave the stage in order to focus the spotlight on a special combination of instruments most fitting to that piece.
Throughout the March performance at Symphony Hall, it was impossible not to notice how much the musicians were enjoying themselves. Even those few who did have music stands in front of them rarely seemed to be reading the notes, but their gazes instead roamed around the stage to connect with those of their fellow performers. Ma himself could often be seen laughing or smiling at the musicians to his left or right while they shredded away at a particularly difficult section of a piece. His unrestrained joy was akin to that of a child playing with a new toy; he often finished a song with an energetic flourish of his bow hand and a wide smile.
The group started the evening with a piece composed by one of its own members, Kojiro Umezaki, entitled, “Side In Side Out”. Umezaki held the gaze of every audience member with his masterful solos on the shakuhachi — a long, wooden, Japanese flute that produces a much more airy sound than the western flute.
Next came “The Taranta Project,” which began with an absolutely touching violin solo by Johnny Gandelsman and then shocked the audience when percussionist Joseph Gramley delivered an even more showstopping performance … using only his body as an instrument! With a frenzied yet extremely precise rhythm, Gramley struck his legs and chest with his hands and punctuated this body percussion with stunning, staccato vocals.
By far the most noteworthy performances of the night were delivered by Cristina Pato on the galician bagpipes, Kinan Azmeh on clarinet, and, of course, Ma.
Pato and her bagpipe brought an unmatched sound and energy to the stage. At points during “The Latina 6/8 Suite,” composed by Edward Perez, she would fill the instrument with enough air to continue playing while she released the mouthpiece and let out an incredible, trilling cry just at the climax of a phrase.
Ma dazzled the audience with his solos during “Paramita,” followed up by an improvised number by Sandeep Das and Kayhan Kalhor, on the tabla and the kamancheh, respectively. Azmeh and his clarinet held the spotlight in his own piece, “Wedding,” which perfectly conveyed the chaos and joy of a traditional Syrian wedding, and served as an appropriately exuberant finale.
The evening continued with a wonderful pieces with origins spanning from Latin America to China to Syria. As Ma put it, “The Silk Road Ensemble is a musical model for cultural citizenship. It shows how culture can help us to connect with each other, and how that requires curiosity, collaboration, and wholehearted enthusiasm. The music we play does not belong to just one culture or solely to the Silk Road region.”
An energetic encore finished off the night, combining a fast Irish march (“O’Neill’s March”) with Pete Seeger’s “Little Birdie”. The tunes were blended together so seamlessly that it was almost a shock cellist Mike Block burst out in song for the second number.
The energy and diversity of the Silk Road’s performances makes its shows perfect for any age, even for young children. This group is an absolute must see; a concert with the Silk Road Ensemble is the musical experience of a lifetime.
–March 19, 2015–
Kira Peterson is in her third year as a member of the Raider Times staff (2013-2016). She has previously served as the Arts and Entertainment editor.