Tanglewood 75 - From the Audio Archives: Day 41


Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble: Music from the Silk Road Project
Koussevitzky Music Shed, August 7, 2004

Silk Road Ensemble
Yo-Yo Ma, artistic director

Release: 07/30/2012


Available for purchase starting July 31, 2012 8:30 AM


Background on the Music

Tanglewood 75 Archival Program Cover Byambasuren Sharav: Legend of Hurlen
Khongorzul Ganbaatar, vocalist
Yo-Yo Ma, morin khuur
Elizabeth Pridgen, piano (Tanglewood Music Center guest)
Darren Acosta and John Faieta, tenor trombones
Murray Crewe, bass trombone
Mark Suter, Joseph Gramley, and Shane Shanahan, percussion

Traditional: Armenian Folk Songs, collected by Komitas Vartabed, arranged by S. Aslamamazyan
     Vagharshabadi Dance
     It's Spring

Jonathan Gandelsman, violin 1
Colin Jacobsen, violin 2
Nicholas Cords, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Traditional:Music of the Roma, arranged by Ljova (Lev Zhurbin)
     Doina Oltului

Jonathan Gandelsman, violin 1
Colin Jacobson, violin 2
Nicholas Cords, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Wu Man, pipa

Kayha Kalhor: Gallop of A Thousand Horses (1999)
Colin Jacobsen, violin 1
Jonathan Gandelsman, violin 2
Nicholas Cords, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Wu Man, pipa
Mark Suter, percussionist

Traditional: Turceasca, arranged by Osvaldo Golijov and Ljova (Lev Zhurvin)
Colin Jacobsen, violin 1
Jonathan Gandelsman, violin 2
Nicholas Cords, viola
Yo-Yo Ma, cello
Wu Man, pipa

Yo-Yo Ma and a group of scholars and world musicians created the Silk Road Project in 1998. In the beginning, for Ma, at least, it was a "roots project." Ma is a very cosmopolitan figure, born in Paris to Taiwanese parents; he has lived in the United States since he was five - except when he is passing through airports on the way to destinations around the world where everyone is eager to hear him play the cello. He is the most famous classical musician in our time, in part because he has never confined himself entirely to Western classical music.

So one of the goals in launching the Silk Road Project was to investigate the earliest connection between East and West, the so-called "Silk  Road," the ancient trading route between Europe and China, and to learn more not only about the musical cultures of the countries it passed through but also about the interactions among those cultures.

That was the research goal, but the Silk Road Project was designed to lead into the future as well, by promoting 21st-century interactions among the traditional musical cultures that developed along these trade routes. As Yo-Yo Ma put it in an interview in 2000, "There will be a lot of concerts, but for me the live events are only the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately what will be just as important are the networks that will be formed and the educational projects. I keep thinking of the great Paris Exhibition of 1899 when the gamelan orchestra came from Bali, and Debussy and Ravel heard it, with long-term consequences for the history of French music. I also think about Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner and how hospitable she made her home to cross-cultural influences, and with what extraordinary results. I hope the Silk Road Project will create the same kind of encounters and result in long-term sustainable work. . . Recent census figures show us how rapidly the demographics are changing in all our major and medium-size cities. It is up to us in the cultural arena to see what we can do to keep up with all these new arrivals."

The first major gathering of the musicians of the Silk Road Project after two years of planning and fund-raising was a private 10-day workshop at Tanglewood in the summer of 2000; there was another in 2004. Nearly 60 musicians from many nations gathered, composers as well as performers; they listened to each other play, jammed together, and spent an afternoon flying kites.

All this exploratory activity laid the groundwork so that the Silk Road Project could develop in many different directions. The most public dimension is a series of concerts and residencies that have taken the ensemble - drawn from a group of about 60 performers from about 20 countries - to festivals and concert halls around the world for more than a decade now; there have also been four CDs. There have been major collaborative projects with Harvard University; museums in Switzerland, Japan, and the United States; and the city of Chicago. 

The Project has commissioned more than 70 new works, not counting the "spontaneous combustion" of works brought to life from oral traditions or resulting from collective improvisations. In addition there are many educational activities - the Project's website, www.silkroadproject.org, provides an excellent overview and road map.

The Silk Road Project has also regularly performed concerts at Tanglewood. This download features the musicians of the Silk Road Project in their half of a concert at Tanglewood in 2004; the rest of the program featured Yo-Yo Ma and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tan Dun's The Map,a work created in the spirit of the Silk Road project. Ma himself made an amiable host, and not only played the cello but also the two-stringed Mongolian horsehead-fiddle, the morin khuur - Ma told the Tanglewood audience that his name, "Ma," means "horse."

Some of the instruments and some of the music were exotic and unfamiliar, but the spirit was something everyone present could relate to.  It was a very high-level hootenanny, and communicating directly with audiences everywhere is chief among the ensemble's artistic goals.

Richard Dyer



"The first half of the program featured traditional music from the Silk Road and new music written in traditional styles by composers from along the Silk Road. The most striking of these pieces was Legend of Herlen by the Mongolian composer Byambasuren Sharav, which featured a singer as extraordinary in appearance as she was in voice, Khongorzul Ganbaatar. She swept onstage in gold and crimson silk, wearing a cap that towered at least three feet above her head, crowned with a cluster of full-length peacock feathers. She had to hold it on with her hands while bowing. Her voice was also wide-ranging, piercing in quality, and capable of extraordinary ululations or trills across intervals both narrow and wide. Her epic narrative was accompanied by a chamber ensemble of modern instruments [including trombone, and Ma playing the morin khuur]. The other new piece, Gallop of a Thousand Horses by the Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, is based on Turkmen folk melodies; it is fast, soulful and exciting . . ."
-Richard Dyer, Boston Globe