- June 16, 2009
A Glittery Cast’s Cultural Exchange
By JAMES R. OESTREICH
Published: June 10, 2009
After two relatively subdued programs at Alice Tully Hall last weekend, the Silk Road Project, celebrating its 10th anniversary and Lincoln Center’s 50th, pulled out all the stops on Tuesday evening in a free concert at the Damrosch Park band shell. Lincoln Center estimates that 3,500 listeners braved the threatening weather, which in the end produced only a few late sprinkles, and the event was telecast as part of the PBS series “Live From Lincoln Center.”
Much of the interest undoubtedly stemmed from the star power of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the artistic director of the Silk Road Project, a performing and educational enterprise devoted to musical globalization and named for the ancient trade route between Eastern Asia and Western Europe. But the beauty of the project is that it has from the start attracted international performers whose musical virtuosity and personal charisma rival those of Mr. Ma, who often takes a back seat.
Such performers abounded on Tuesday. In addition to the already glittery weekend cast - Wu Man, Wu Tong, Kojiro Umezaki, Dong-Won Kim, Sandeep Das, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova - Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian master of the kamancheh, a Persian string instrument with a wiry timbre, performed and led his “Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur” (2000), one of the first and most enduring works composed for the project. And Cristina Pato, a flamboyant Galician bagpiper, energized raucous music from Osvaldo Golijov’s “Air to Air” (2006), which was largely inspired by her first encounter with the project, in a workshop.
She was challenged in the Golijov by Wu Tong’s lively squawking on the sheng (Chinese mouth organ complete with pipes). Wu Tong also revealed his versatility, first playing a bawu (Chinese bamboo flute) in the opening “Silk Road Suite,” with Mr. Umezaki on shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and Mr. Kim, a Korean drummer and vocalist. Then Wu Tong sang a fetching Chinese love song by Zhao Lin, accompanied by Mr. Ma.
Wu Man brought her familiar, astounding virtuosity on pipa (Chinese lute) to a solo number in the suite. Mr. Das, playing tabla (Indian drums), led a battery of percussionists in his “Shristi” (2006), based on a tale of creation involving Shiva and his drum.
Mr. Qasimov and his daughter, Ms. Qasimova, the stars of the tragic Azerbaijani opera “Layla and Majnun” on Saturday, turned their vocal artistry to livelier matters in two songs. And the ensemble repeated an encore from Saturday, Mohammed Abdel Wahab’s “Night at the Caravanserai.”
Guest artists included percussionists from the University of Michigan and string players from the Manhattan School of Music, though the added strings barely registered in the crude and unbalanced amplification of “Blue as the Turquoise Night.”
Mr. Ma added connective chatter and cheerleading of a sort more appropriate to a children’s concert. Better by far was his summary of the project’s big lesson on Saturday: The deeper you dig into any local tradition, the more you find something global.
As reported from NYtimes.com
- April 3, 2009
A Mendelssohn concert by the pianist Emanuel Ax, the violinist Itzhak Perlman and the cellist Yo-Yo Ma at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday evening was ostensibly a celebration of the Mendelssohn bicentennial. But it was also a reminder of the unabated star power of these celebrity musicians. Chairs were placed on both sides of the stage to accommodate the capacity audience, with plenty of teenagers and children in attendance.
The concert opened with an evocative performance of Mendelssohn’s Opus 109 “Song Without Words” for piano and cello, a vehicle for Mr. Ma’s gorgeous tone and elegant phrasing. Mr. Ma and Mr. Ax also performed several arrangements of “Songs Without Words” by the contemporary composer Patrick Castillo. (Mendelssohn wrote 48 such songs for piano solo.) A soulful, burnished rendition of Opus 62, No. 1, was a highlight of the evening.
Mr. Perlman offered still more arrangements of “Songs Without Words” by Mr. Castillo, these for violin and piano. In contrast to Mr. Ma’s powerful sound, Mr. Perlman’s tone was sometimes lackluster, and he had intonation problems throughout the evening. But he also played with expressive musicianship, sensitively accompanied by Mr. Ax in selections like Heifetz’s version of Mendelssohn’s Opus 19b, No. 1.
In 1837, after composing many of the “Songs Without Words,” Mendelssohn said he “would rather write bigger things,” a goal he quickly realized with substantial chamber works like the Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, which the musicians performed in the first half of the program.
Mr. Ax played the muscular piano part with flair, the dark-hued opening bars representing a dramatic change from the sunny melodies of the preceding songs. The concert concluded with the Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor. Despite muddy passages and imprecise playing, it was a passionate performance that earned enthusiastic applause between movements and a rousing ovation at the end.
Then Mr. Perlman said from the stage, “It’s the Mendelssohn year, so we’ll play some Brahms for you.” And as an encore the musicians played the second movement of Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C.
- Vivien Schweitzer, The New York Times
- March 26, 2009
Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble receive rave reviews. Yo-Yo and the Silk Road will be performing at Alice Tully Hall in New York City on June 5th and 6th. http://www.lincolncenter.org/search_results.asp?showcode=30541
"Yo-Yo Ma builds new bridges across cultures" - Toronto Star
"There are no words for what Silk Road Ensemble Creates" - Twin Cities Pioneer Press
Click here to read the reviews.
- March 26, 2009
Penn State University will be honoring Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax with the 2009 Institute for the Arts and Humanities Medals for Distinguished Contributions to the Arts and Humanities.
Check out this series of articles from Penn State University about Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman’s upcoming performances of the Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio.
Yo-Yo Ma will be performing a sold out performance of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio with Itzhak Perlman and Emanuel Ax on Tuesday March 31st at Carnegie Hall.
- March 9, 2009
Ashes of Time was originally completed in 1994, to limited release. Since then, the existing prints and negatives have been damaged or destroyed. Director Wong Kar Wai says, "we decided to revisit this project to create the definitive version." He and his colleagues gathered as much existing material as could be found and restored those elements, using advanced technology that had not existed in the early '90's. He also collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma to create a new soundtrack, rearranging some of the original compositions by Freddie Chan and adding some original ones.
On the Ashes of Time Score, Yo-Yo Ma and Wu Tong, joined a group of young Chinese musicians in the recording studio to re-create the score for Ashes of Time Redux. On this recording, Ma's cello, as the instrument closest in pitch range to our voice, becomes a principal "narrator" telling us of love, life and loss.
To infuse the sounds of East and West for the Ashes of Time Redux score, Chan chose traditional Chinese instruments "dongxiao" (vertical bamboo flute) and "gaohu" (two-stringed fiddle) and recorded a guitar, which can imitate the sound of the "pipa" (Chinese flute). According to Chan, the "dongxiao" epitomizes the solitary existence of swordsmen, while the high-pitched squeaks of the "gaohu" presents the unpredictability of fate and human savagery.
The soundtrack is a testament to the remarkable achievement of artists crossing the great divide between traditional and classical, folk and modern, East and West.
For more information on the film Ashes of Time Redux visit: http://www.sonyclassics.com/ashesoftimeredux
- February 11, 2009
New John Williams Composition Performed at President Obama's Inauguration by Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill, Gabriela Montero and Itzhak Perlman
Now Available Exclusively at iTunes
"Air and Simple Gifts" is a classical quartet written by American composer John Williams for the January 20, 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The piece was first heard by the public in Washington, DC, and on simultaneous broadcasts around the world in a performance by Anthony McGill (clarinet), Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Gabriela Montero (piano). The premiere of Air and Simple Gifts came immediately before the oath of office. Barack Obama officially became the President at noon, as stipulated by the United States Constitution, while the piece was being heard.
John Williams based the piece on the familiar nineteenth-century Shaker hymn Simple Gifts by Joseph Brackett. The source piece is famous for its appearance in Aaron Copland's score for the ballet Appalachian Spring. Williams chose the selection knowing that Copland is one of President Obama's favorite classical composers.
Click to hear an excerpt from “Air and Simple Gifts.”