The Silk Road Ensemble www.yo-yoma.com draws together distinguished performers and composers from more than twenty countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Since the Ensemble formed under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma, these innovative artists have eagerly explored contemporary musical crossroads. The Ensemble describe their approach as experimental and democratic, founded on collaboration and risk taking, on continual learning and sharing. Members explore and celebrate the multiplicity of approaches to music from around the world. They also develop new repertoire that responds to the multicultural reality of our global society.
The Silk Road Ensemble has performed to critical acclaim throughout Asia, Europe and North America. In 2009, the Project began an educational pilot program, called Silk Road Connect, for middle-school students in New York City public schools, developed with help from education experts at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In July 2012, the Silk Road Project and Harvard Graduate School of Education presented ‘The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning,’ an arts education institute that models the Silk Road Connect arts integration approach.
The Silk Road Project has been affiliated with both Harvard University and the Rhode Island School of Design in the USA, having its offices on the Harvard campus in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Silk Road Ensemble is now celebrating its 15th anniversary with its seventh album entitled A Playlist Without Borders just released by Sony Masterworks www.sonymasterworks.com
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The title of this new release is drawn from the first work on this disc, written by Vijay Iyer http://vijay-iyer.com , Playlist for an Extreme Occasion. Effectively a dance suite, it features Mike Block (cello), Nicholas Cords (viola), Sandeep Das (tabla), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Joseph Gramley (percussion), Cristina Pato (piano, gaita), Shane Shanahan (percussion) and Wu Tong (sheng) it opens with Part Zero, in music that is jazzy rhythmic and pulsating, headed by the cello of Mike Block and providing interesting sonorities with a repeated motif around the rhythmic underlay.
In Part One the cello weaves around the free jazz sounds of the ensemble before Part Two, which opens quietly and slowly with an Indian sounding cello over a bass ground provided by the ensemble. There are hints of a rhythmic theme that slowly begins to emerge as the terrific sound of the gaita, a traditional kind of bagpipe, joins. The music by now has become insistently rhythmic as the string instruments weave around. Later on there is some great drumming from Joseph Gramley.
Part Three opens with the sound of an insistent piano as the ensemble slowly join, providing rich sonorities as the motif is repeated. Soon the strings weave a tapestry of sound over the rest of the orchestra until building to a pitch. Eastern sounds open Part Four with deep cello sounds before drums slowly give a rhythmic pulse. A piano theme appears, classical in feel but with an eastern inflection. This theme is taken up by the other members of the ensemble to form quite a hypnotic and intoxicating feel.
Part Five again features the gaita against a strong rhythmic background in music with a jazzy Indian feel, a real fusion and really building to a frantic pitch. I love the discordant sounds the gaita can make. Cristina’s Interlude is a lovely little piano solo, a thoughtful sequence that leads into Part Six where the piano continues in a little skipping motif, until slowly joined by the rest of the Ensemble in a repeated theme that grows louder whilst subtly developing.
Night Thoughts is a piece by Wu Man www.wumanpipa.org , arranged by her in collaboration with Dong-Won Kim and Kojiro Umezaki and featuring Dong-Won Kim (jang-go), Wu Man (pipa) and Kojiro Umezahi (shakuhachi). Inspired by an archaeological discovery and interpretation of a ninth century Buddhist melody, the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese instrument similar to a lute, opens this piece with a slow eastern theme played beautifully by Wu Man. The Jang–go, a two heads drum, joins before the mellow tone of the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) takes over bringing a truly nocturnal sound. All three eventually combine in this atmospheric piece. There is some really fine playing here as the music builds to a frantic pitch before a quiet end.
Saidi Swing, a piece rooted in a traditional Arabic rhythm known as Saidi, was written by Silk Road member, Shane Shanahan www.shaneshanahan.com and features Sandeep Das (tabla), Joseph Gramley (percussion), Mark Suter (percussion) and Shane Shanahan (percussion) himself. Drums open in an offbeat rhythm that drives forward, developing all the time with many textures, rhythms and colours. Lovers of percussion will find much to delight here.
Ahmed Adnan Saygun www.aassm.org.tr is a Turkish composer who, in his Allegretto from Partita, Op.31 for cello solo brings a fusion of Turkish musical tradition to a classically constructed piece for solo cello, beautifully played by Yo-Yo-Ma. He weaves some really fine melody throughout in this atmospheric piece and appears to be a composer worth seeking out.
Another member of the Ensemble, Colin Jacobsen www.colinjacobsen.com/web/home.aspx , was inspired to write Atashgah following a visit to an ancient fire temple, or atashgah, near the city of Esfahan in Iran. Featuring Jeffrey Beecher (bass), Nicholas Cords (viola), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Colin Jacobsen (violin), Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh), Yo-Yo-Ma (cello) and Shane Shanahan (percussion) it opens quietly with more players slowly joining until the rhythmic motif becomes more imposing. Soon the evocative sounds of the kamancheh, a Persian bowed string instrument, joins against a background of droning strings. The music develops through many lovely sounds as it rises in power. I loved this piece with its beautiful sonorities and rather a hypnotic pull, capturing one’s ear with its changing textures and sounds.
David Bruce’s www.davidbruce.net Cut the Rug was written for the Silk Road Ensemble and was inspired by not only the concept of the Silk Road, but also the broad embrace of gypsy music. In four sections or movements, it features Kinan Azmeh (clarinet), Jeffrey Beecher (bass), Nicholas Cords (viola), Sandeep Das (tabla),Patrick Farrrell (accordion), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Joseph Gramley (percussion), Colin Jacobsen (violin), Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh), Yo-Yo-Ma (cello), Wu Man (pipa), Shane Shanahan (percussion) and Mark Suter (percussion).
Drag the Goat opens with the pipa before being joined by the other instruments in this fast moving, rhythmic, swirling piece, full of changing textures and sonorities and a haunting coda. Bury the Hatchet again commences with the sound of the pipa in a theme that slowly develops with drums joining in, then the accordion, as the rhythm drives the music inexorably forward. The lovely sound of the gaita arrives before vocal outbursts bring the piece to a tremendous pitch before suddenly dropping to the solo pipa to conclude.
Move the Earth opens quietly, full of gentle harmonies and an Eastern flavour. The music does become more animated as it progresses with some terrific textures and sonorities from this ensemble, who provide some impressive sounds and some fine individual playing. A clarinet features in the opening of Wake the Dead, the final section of this work that rhythmically dances forward to the conclusion.
John Zorn’s https://myspace.com/johnzorn Briel (From Book of Angels) is arranged here by Silk Road member, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz. John Zorn is an American composer whose compositions range across jazz, cinema, classical, klezmer (dance music from the Jewish tradition) to rock. Percussion opens this piece before the whole ensemble join to bring this disc to a joyous end. There are certainly jazz influences as well as other ethnic sounds. Yo-Yo-Ma (cello) shows how he can really swing in this piece as can the whole Silk Road Ensemble. This is a joyous and atmospheric end to a fine celebration of their 15th anniversary.
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