The Silk Road Ensemble Charts 'A Playlist Without Borders'

Q2 Music Album of the Week for November 4, 2013

Monday, November 04, 2013

Given the sheer mileage they cover, it's no wonder that Yo-Yo Ma's famous Silk Road Ensemble, a musical caravan named after the trade routes linking Europe and Asia, brings so much baggage with them.

Led by the superstar cellist and dedicated to discovering commonalities between seemingly disparate musical cultures, they're the world-music crossover band of one of the most famous musicians in the world, burdened with more good intentions and celebrity glamour than perhaps any other group in the classical sphere. Has any chamber group had more to prove to the cynics?

It couldn't, and probably shouldn't, matter much to Ma or his band that there are curmudgeonly listeners whose gag reflex will be triggered by the mention of the words "world music" and "crossover," but just in case there are any of them reading this review of Silk Road's new disc, "A Playlist Without Borders," this might be a good moment to focus on everything else that the Silk Road Ensemble has to offer.

Silk Road isn't just Yo-Yo Ma's band: it's also an incubator of spectacular young talent, as well as a collection of international all-stars. And it isn't just a crossover project: it's also a major commissioning project, connecting living composers to huge audiences.

The album's title track of sorts, Playlist for an Extreme Occasion, offers the opportunity to hear the wild and funky melodic sensibility of jazz pianist Vijay Iyer emerge from the gaita, an Iberian bagpipes, played by Silk Road's Cristina Pato.

Briel finally answers the question, "What would Yo-Yo Ma sound like playing the music of John Zorn?" And if Atashgah, by Silk Road fiddler Colin Jacobsen, is composed a little thinly, so much the better to shift the listener's attention toward Kayhan Kalhor's incredibly smoky sound on the kamancheh, a bowed Persian instrument.

And that doesn't even take into account the white-knuckle virtuosity of pipa player Wu Man and tabla player Sandeep Das. With guides like these, who wouldn't want to play tourist down this particular stretch of road?

Audio is no longer available.


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Comments [2]

Now THIS is what I'm talking about! I had heard about the Silk Road Ensemble a while back, and while I was turned on by the multi-cultural instrumentation of the ensemble, I was fairly disappointed at the kind of music they played in their previous albums. Many of the songs seemed thin in their arrangement, there were times where some instruments didn't blend together well, or simply some of the compositions weren't good. However, I think this album shows that they've improved from these problems. The compositions are fun and invigorating, the blending of instruments is rich, and, as is the goal of the Silk Road Ensemble, the influences are wide and diverse. A great album, and hopefully it will start a trend of "global classical music" ;)

Nov. 06 2013 11:31 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

I purchased YoYoMa's first Silk Road CD a number of years ago on it's issue date.
I hesitate to say that I am a cellist of sorts, in the same paragraph of mentioning YoYoMa.
I have been studying and playing for 15 years and went back to University to get a performance certificate while running the farm full time.
I also listened intently to the audio on this web site.
YoYoMa is the exception to the rule when it comes to classical musicians going into crossover styles.
The major conservatories put so much emphasis on Classical and ancient music that there is little time for many students to experiment in crossover styles.
I attempted some of the chords and rapid string changes on the cello part in this CD and unless you are a cellist one cannot begin to understand the complexity of the Cello parts.
I recently had an opportunity to study with a young man who received a Masters Degree in performance from Julliard, and he frequently would lament that he never had a chance to experiment with modern and culturally diverse music until he graduated. The pressure is so great on students to master the standard classical fare that divergent styles are not in most students study time.
Julliard does have a Jazz program but it is historically American Jazz in its focus.
The closest to cross cultural studies Julliard has is in their new Ancient Music program but that focus is predominantly on European Ancient Music. It is a shame that such wonderful conservatories as Julliard, Curtis Institute and Manhattan School of Music et al do not have crossover studies that will allow students to focus on Middle East music and Chinese Opera. Although there have been times when Julliard students have performed traditional Asian music for their dance department recitals.
We can all benefit from listening to crossover music that is of the highest caliber like that from Silk Road. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 04 2013 06:29 PM

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Q2 Music's Album of the Week is our weekly review of the newest and most dynamic contemporary classical releases. It focuses on musical discovery, world premiere recordings and fresh perspectives on today's classical landscape. Read our review and stream the album on-demand for one week only at


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