I saw the Silk Road Project for the first time a few years ago in Great Performances on KLRN… and it changed me forever! Needless to say, I am a big fan. This project greatly influenced my vision as Artistic Director of Musical Bridges. The magnificent display of talent from the different cultures encompassed every form of musical expression: various forms of schooling or sometimes no schooling at all; written scores for classically trained musicians and improvisation by raw talent from far away ethnic cultures. The performances crossed the boundaries of genres, time, languages, history, and I’m sure a lot of other boundaries I cannot even think of at the moment. This is a mind boggling project!
I take my hat off to Yo-Yo-Ma for thinking outside the box to this extent. Yes, keeping in mind our difficult relationship with the Arab World, it is understandable why this project got a lot of publicity. But, if you take away the savvy political marketing angle, this project actually makes a lot of sense – that despite our differences (and I mean our human ones, in general), we can coexist and even create something harmonious, dynamic and beautiful together.
I was extremely excited to see another version of the Silk Road Project here in San Antonio last year, as part of the Arts San Antonio concert season. The cast was different from the original, but the project was just as great. I have always admired the art of improvisation – I really cannot fully comprehend how artists are able to create their parts on the spot, and I feel that it is something almost mystical. What I appreciate most about this project is how all these musicians, who in reality have nothing in common, could create such a seamless performance. The musical language was extremely complex and yet it was easy to comprehend, almost like a pop show, I would say!
To give you a little technical glimpse into this world…Classically trained musicians – those of us who did not have much of a childhood and spent all of our lives seated at the piano from age 5 on (like me) – cannot improvise in most parts. We learn music following every little mark that the composer left for us, and the measure of a good performance is how closely we mirror the composer’s vision of the musical piece.
Improvisational ethnic musicians sometimes do not know how to read music at all. They play as we say, by ear (much like jazz musicians) or follow a traditional century’s old way of playing without using musical notations. Or perhaps they follow something else I do not even know of… this is how foreign it is for me, a western classically trained DMA.
I believe Yo-Yo-Ma with his Silk Road Project created a new musical aesthetic. The idea that all this talent can produce beautiful, culturally diverse music together, and have a lot of fun along the way, makes me wish that the Silk Road Project was a small model of an ideal world – a world in which I would definitely like to live.