6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 1 - September 2015

  • Text
  • September
  • Jazz
  • Toronto
  • Musical
  • Sept
  • Quartet
  • Concerto
  • Orchestra
  • Symphony
  • Violin
Paul Ennis's annual TIFF TIPS (27 festival films of potential particular musical interest); Wu Man, Yo-Yo Ma and Jeffrey Beecher on the Silk Road; David Jaeger on CBC Radio Music in the days it was committed to commissioning; the LISTENING ROOM continues to grow on line; DISCoveries is back, bigger than ever; and Mary Lou Fallis says Trinity-St. Paul's is Just the Spot (especially this coming Sept 25!).

Silk Road Stories:

Silk Road Stories: Spinning a Musical Web ANDREW TIMAR The historic trade routes collectively referred to as the Silk Road, an interconnected web of maritime and overland pathways, have, for centuries, served as sites for cultural, economic, educational, religious – and purely musical – exchanges. In that light, “silk roads” can be seen as a significant factor in the development of the ever-evolving hybridities that have shaped the face of the modern musical world. In 1998 the Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma proposed “Silkroad” as the name of his new non-profit organisation. That project, inspired by his global curiosity and eagerness to forge connections across cultures, disciplines and generations, has grown several branches, the first of which was the successful music performing group, Silk Road Ensemble (SRE). It has played to sold-out houses at Roy Thomson Hall in 2003 and 2009 and will return to perform at Massey Hall on September 15. (Serendipitously, Toronto audiences will have another opportunity to see the SRE up close this September. Morgan Neville’s feature-length documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble graces TIFF’s red carpet, enjoying its world premiere.) Wu Man’s view from the pipa. Chinese-born Grammy Award nominee Wu Man, widely hailed as the world’s premier pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso, has a unique perspective on the SRE’s career. An educator, composer and an ambassador of Chinese music, she has a prolific discography of 40 albums and counting. She was among the first musicians to get the call from Yo-Yo Ma to help in founding SRE. We spoke by phone on August 14. “It was actually in 1998, even before we officially announced the ensemble in 2000 at Tanglewood [the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer festival home]. Of course many other musicians have joined us since then.” Asked about her early encounters with Western classical music and musicians, Wu recounted her first live exposure as a young student. “In 1979 I saw Seiji Ozawa conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing in Beijing. At the time I was still a pipa student at the Central Conservatory of Music” (where she became the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa). The Boston Symphony, she explains, was “conducted by a charismatic Asian conductor, so the hall was packed with curious people from across the county: it wasn’t easy to get a ticket. The music played that night proved to be a revelation to me and my classmates.” Her next Western musical encounter came a year later. “I participated in an inspiring Beijing masterclass with violinist Isaac Stern.” (The 1980 Academy Award winning documentary film From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China provides insight into the great maestro’s groundbreaking tour.) These two musical experiences proved to be pivotal influences in Wu’s subsequent professional music career in the West, launched when she moved to the U.S. in 1990. They also undoubtedly played a role in her eagerness to be among the SRE founders. How does she respond to concerns some have around cultural appropriation? “I’d have to say that there’s nothing ‘pure’ in a given culture – or in a national state for that matter – as illustrated for instance by the box we may label ‘China.’ When we can equitably share cultures however, it puts us in a much bigger [and more inclusive] box called ‘the world.’” Wu’s 2012 Borderlands CD/DVD, co-produced by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Smithsonian Institution Center for Folklife and Wu Man Culture Heritage, traces the history of the pipa in China. Its narrative also speaks to the primary mission of the SRE. “My instrument’s roots extend to Persia 1,000 years ago, but its origins had largely been forgotten in China,” she noted. It was only through the SRE, working with Central and South Asian musicians, that “I became aware of the commonalities between many plucked string instruments and their performance methods. Only then was I able to appreciate our common roots. I feel that only if you know your roots can you then imagine how to create something new.” Above all, Wu Man takes very seriously her responsibility “to represent the pipa to the audience, most of whom have never seen or heard it live.” The pipa, she says, is the musical vehicle which she uses to “bridge many cultures. This is my mission. In recent years I’ve gone back quite often to give masterclasses at Chinese music schools.” Her rediscovery, embrace and showcasing of the musical traditions of her birthplace, projects she has titled her “Return to the East,” are often expressed in stage appearances with the SRE. They can also be seen as completing the circle Ozawa and Stern’s example modelled for the young pipa student in Beijing nearly two generations ago. Behind the Cello.“Behind the Cello,” published January 21, 2014, is a wide-ranging and penetrating Huffington Post article I found, adapted from a conversation Ma had with WorldPost. In it Ma talks about having founded the Silk Road Project “to study the flow of ideas among the many cultures between the Mediterranean and the Pacific over several thousand years.” The silk road as a useful and enduring metaphor for exploration of intersecting and cross-pollinating musical routes has served other musicians and ensembles well over time, but it is particularly well suited to Ma’s capacious intellectual curiosity, encrusted as it is with historic and personal echoes. As he and his travelling companions in the SRE continue to experiment with these ideas, on stage and in the larger social project these performances are encased in, the metaphor takes on greater and greater resonance. Positive audience response to the SRE’s always musically engaging concert performances have given the groups a special niche on world stages. Beyond that, in my view, the group is also operating at the leading edge of the evolution of a greater pan-cultural musical consciousness in the 21st century. Let’s explore some of these grand assertions. While making music is SRE’s essential mission, Ma’s vision for the group as stated in his “Behind the Cello” interview is no less than to bring “the world together on one stage.” Calling SRE’s musicians a “peer group of virtuosos, masters of living traditions,” he has enlisted European, Arabic, Azeri, Armenian, Persian, Russian, Central Asian, Indian, Mongolian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese participants into its ranks. The group modus operandi entails generous sharing of received knowledge, curiosity about other forms of expressions and a reciprocal keenness to learn from each other. That much is evident to audiences attending live SRE concerts or one of its workshops, and even to those casually flipping through YouTube videos. Ma argues that invention and evolution hand-in-hand hold the keys to cultural engagement and growth: “... we have found that every tradition is the result of successful invention. One of the best ways to ensure the survival of traditions is by organic evolution, using all the tools available to us in the present day, from YouTube to the concert hall.” STEPHEN KAHN 8 | Sept 1 - Oct 7, 2015

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