Making a welcome return to UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater this week is world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who brings with him a group of musicians and composers who take the greatest delight in their music-making – the Silk Road Ensemble.
Silkroad is the remarkable project founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 2000, which has assembled what The Wall Street Journal describes as a “vibrant and virtuosic” group of musicians and composers, from over 20 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas, to perform arrangements of traditional and contemporary music from around the world. Ma describes Silkroad as “a creative home for me and for members of The Silk Road Ensemble, a place where we return to explore new artistic languages, to encounter friends and strangers, and to find joy in unexpected connections.” *
The Ensemble has to date delighted audiences in over 30 countries with their performances of “spontaneity and superb craftsmanship” (The Washington Post). Their intention, according to the group, is “to lead a listener from a well-known place to somewhere new”, and whether their music is classic, contemporary, familiar or unknown, the creating is, as they say, “a joyous process”.
The group has recorded six albums, their latest, Sing Me Home, having been released in April this year, and in June a documentary on the Ensemble was released by Morgan Neville and Caitrin Rogers – creators of the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom, and highly acclaimed Best of Enemies documentaries. Entitled The Music of Strangers, it’s the perfect illustration of the raison d’être for the Ensemble, as Yo-Yo Ma and a group of Ensemble members gather in a number of different countries, “exploring the ways art can both preserve traditions and shape cultural evolution”.
With a commissioning program which has produced over 80 new works from composers and arrangers in 22 countries – from Asia, the Middle East and South America, as well as from the United States – it’s no wonder that the Boston Globe refers to the Silk Road Ensemble as a “roving musical laboratory without walls”.
It’s certainly a highly successful demonstration of what could be termed ‘the unity of diversity’. As Yo-Yo Ma says, one of the great pleasures of Silkroad is that it celebrates difference – “we cultivate curiosity in our exploration and generosity in our sharing”. *
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble perform for one night only at the open-air Greek Theater, UC Berkeley, on Thursday, August 18. For more information, and tickets, visit the Cal Performances website.
* Extract from the liner notes of The Silk Road Ensemble’s latest recording, Sing Me Home, Sony Masterworks, 2016