Sunday, 2 May 2010

The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma / Review

The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (30 April 2010)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 3 May 2010.

The Silk Road Ensemble, founded by eminent cellist Yo-Yo Ma, celebrated its 10th anniversary with an Asian tour which concluded with two concerts in Singapore. The idea of bringing musicians from disparate world cultures together was likened to the ancient Silk Road that linked the Far East to Europe, with its inevitable exchanges and assimilations.

All the music performed was written or adapted specifically for the ensemble and its unique blend of instruments. Friday’s concert began with Silk Road Suite, described by Ma as four pieces united by “location, horses and birds”. Over the stillness of a barely audible hum, Ma’s cello and Kayhan Kalhor’s (left) kamancheh (Persian spiked fiddle, relative of the erhu and rebab) opened in quiet unison in Mountains Are Far Away.

The pace quickened and then segued onward to Hu Tian Quan’s Phoenix Rising, which showcased two Chinese instruments – Wu Tong’s blown sheng and Liu Lin’s plucked ruan. A spectrum of harmonies issued, before Ma’s cello cadenza ushered in Zhao Ji Ping’s Summer In The High Grassland, a soundtrack written for a NHK documentary, and closing with fiddlers taking flight in the traditional Persian song Ascending Bird.

One soon gets the idea what their version of world music is all about. Barriers are breached, and politics is shown the door when Americans perform the music of Cold War rivals China and supposed Axis of Evil rogue state Iran.

Even the composers themselves are cross-cultural specimens. The Peruvian-American Gabriela Lena Frank’s Ritmos Anchinos explored timbres of Chinese instruments transplanted into a Latin American milieu. If Wu Man’s pipa (below) sounded like flamenco guitar, that may have something to do with the fact that one of Frank’s grandfather was Chinese.

The most haunting music came from Uzbekistani composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky whose Night Music: Voice In The Leaves was a study of calm and spectral silences. Taking Bartok’s patented night music effects as start point, Ma’s cello sang through a soothing dreamscape, later uniting with a recorded Uzbek mother’s lullaby. Here he was joined by members of the Singapore Symphony conducted by Shui Lan.

The final work closed the concert as it began with a suite of four movements, Air To Air by the Argentine Jewish composer Osvaldo Golijov. Again, geography proved no limitation as the music floated from Palestine (with Arab and Christian deliberately juxtaposed), Mexico and Sardinia. The last was a protest march song that also sounded celebratory, with all on stage erupting into a near riot.

Through two eventful hours (which included two encores), the irrepressible Ma was ever present but never strove to hog the limelight. Allowing the spotlight to shine on his illustrious colleagues, he proved a most sympathetic musical partner. In the perfect world, all musicians are brothers.
Yo-Yo Ma (extreme left) salutes his colleagues
of the Silk Road Ensemble & Singapore Symphony.

No comments: