Silk Road Ensemble Enthralls Capacity Crowd at Blossom

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It was a soggy night at Blossom, but neither the rain nor the humidity dampened the enthusiasm of the crowd that filled the pavilion and covered much of the lawn for the Saturday, Aug. 13, evening concert of the Silk Road Ensemble.

Anyone attending who thought they were seeing a traditional Cleveland Orchestra concert were immediately altered to “this is going to be something different” by the lack of the usual seating arrangement for the orchestra and a stage filled with Chinese gongs, as well as a tabla, kamancheh, Galician bagpipes, shakuhachi, pipa, sheng, and suona. Don’t know what those instruments are? Have never heard them played? That’s part of the purpose for the Silk Road Ensemble.

Silk Road was founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to explore how the arts can advance global understanding. His purpose was to “connect the world through the arts.” He wanted to “promote cross-cultural education, business, and the arts” to transform the world. “Silk Road is a connector and bridge builder," he said, "the Ensemble’s music is vitally reflective of our shared humanity and our global trajectories, and plays a natural role in the need for greater cross-cultural exchange.”

Ma, a Julliard School and Harvard University trained cellist, has led the group to commission more than 80 works, as well as a yearly annual tour and educational programs.

With an emphasis on celebrating differences and cultivating curiosity in exploring and sharing, the Blossom program presented 14 compositions, divided into seven sections. Included were musical modes and rhythmic sounds covering such global areas as the Yangtze River, the Czech homeland of Antonin Dvorák , West Africa, Ireland, Japan, sub-Arctic Scandinavia, Finland, the Bengali-speaking regions of the Brahmaputra River, New York, the land of the Roma gypsies, Spain, and Syria.

Silk Road intends to weave together the foreign and familiar into a new musical language, “which embraces our differences and celebrates the joy we find in one another.” This is based on the belief that “art , in all its forms, opens windows on the world and offers new ways to connect in the face of fragmentation and friction.”

This was not a Yo-Yo Ma concert. It was an exposure to music of the world, presented through solo and blended works of seventeen extraordinary musicians. It is music that has been highlighted in The Music of Strangers, a 2015 90-minute documentary from Oscar winner Morgan Neville that captures five of the many individual journeys of Silk Road.

The group’s newest recording is “Sing Me Home,” in which Silk Road musicians reflect on the meaning of home, interpreting original and traditional folk songs. Many of those selections were included in the recent Blossom concert.

Upcoming: The 2016 Blossom season comes to a conclusion with “The Music of Led Zeppelin (August 20), Orpheus Plays Bach (August 27) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (September 3-4). For Blossom tickets call 216-231-1111 or go to http://www.clevelandorchestra.com

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