Disparate Cultures Share Mesmerizing Virtuosity

31/10/2013

 Silk Road Ensemble: Jeffrey Beecher (bass), Mike Block (cello), Nicholas Cords (viola), Sandeep Das (tablas), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Joseph Gramley (percussion), Kayhan Kalhor (kamancheh), Colin Jacobsen (violin), Cristina Pato (gaita), Shane Shanahan (percussion), Kojiro Umezaki (shakuhachi), Weill Hall, Rohnert Park, California. 29.10.2013 (HS)

 

Silk Road Suite:
Cristina Pato: Caronte
Shane Shanahan: Saidi Swing
Rabih Abou-Khalil: Arabian Waltz
Colin Jacobsen: Atashgah
Mike Block and Cristina Pato: Celtibera
Angel Lam: Empty Mountain/Spirit Rain
John Zorn: Suite from “Book of Angels”

This was the first time I’ve experienced this ensemble without its founder, Yo-Yo Ma, on stage with them. In previous performances Ma’s contribution was as an integral member who helped create a grounded presence for a highly disparate musical group, seldom as a star. But that’s the point. The results have always been thrilling because of the virtuosity of all of the musicians, regardless of their cultures.

The Silk Road Project brings together music and musicians from the countries and cultures that lie along the trade route linking Asia to Europe in times past. It’s a wild mix of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, central Asian, Moorish and southern European music juxtaposed against violins, violas, cellos and a bass. The musicians’ ability to create a startling synthesis of cultures without losing their own character and personalities was on display Tuesday night at Weill Hall, the beautiful new concert venue at SonomaStateUniversity in Rohnert Park, an hour north of San Francisco

At any given time, the forces onstage draw from a roster of nearly four dozen musicians. For this, the ensemble’s 15th anniversary tour, the 11-member band augmented a string quartet with bass, percussion (both western and eastern, including Indian tablas), kamancheh (a vertically played fiddle used in Islamic music), shakuhachi (a Japanese flute) and gaita (a Galician bagpipe). This is a less exotic mix than usual, believe it or not.

The full ensemble in propulsive charge was something to behold, what with exotic rhythms and crisply articulated time signatures, flamboyant tonal colors and dramatic crescendos and accelerandos. Every contributing culture has a slightly different approach to rhythm, but over the years this group has found a way to make it fit together consistently. The driving finish to Arabian Waltz, by the Lebanese-born composer Rabih Abou-Khalil, was nothing short of thrilling.

Anytime Cristina Pato stepped forward with her elaborately decorated bagpipe (the gaita), both natives of Galicia in northwest Spain, the power of the ensemble sound climbed to its most intense. It’s not just the loudness but the soulfulness of her playing, bending notes and creating nuances totally unexpected on a bagpipe.
Not all of the program was at this high level. One that missed was Celtibera, written by Pato and performed by her and cellist Mike Block (who played standing up, his instrument suspended from a sling around his neck and body). It found little connection between her Celtic-influenced Spanish music (the Celts occupied northwest Spain and influenced its culture) and Block’s Scottish melodic line, and came off as perfunctory. A string of arrangements (by members of the ensemble) of music from John Zorn’s Book of Angels never took off, either.

The high points, however, came in more intimate moments. Shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, who grew up in Tokyo with Japanese and Danish parents, evoked the scents and fleeting emotions of a child caught in the rain in Empty Mountain/Spirit Rain, a tone poem for his instrument, strings and delicate glances of percussion, by the Chinese-American composer Angel Lam. Iranian-born Kayhan Kalhor drew sighs and long melodic arcs from his kamancheh in violinist Colin Jacobsen’s Atashgah, a peaceful contemplation of a Zoroaster temple they visited in Iran. Beneath the placid surface emotions rumbled disquietingly.

But the most arresting music came with Kalhor and tablas player Sandeep Das in a mutual improvisation titled Jugalbandi, Sanskrit for a duet in which neither partner dominates. As in most improvisations, there was an element of “anything you can play, I can play with more complexity and flair.” But with Kalhor drawing both languidly sweet and spikily percussive sounds from his fiddle, and Das emphasizing the melodic possibilities in his delicately tuned drums, the results were mesmerizing—the level of virtuosity off the charts.

Harvey Steiman

 

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019-20 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden __________________________________
  • NEW! Bregenz Festival 17 July – 18 August 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Sergei Polunin and Friends at London Palladium 28 May – 1 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 Elgar Festival in Worcester from 30 May to 2 June __________________________________
  • NEW! Musikfest Berlin 2019 from 30 August to 19 September __________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Ballet Announces Winners of Emerging Dancer 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR THOMAS SANDERLING IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! YOUNG RUSSIAN PIANIST ALEXANDRA DOVGAN TALKS TO GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • A Q&A WITH ITALIAN BARITONE FRANCO VASSALLO __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month