An icy Sunday evening turned into a lush and warm, and enjoyable evening inside The Kennedy Center with the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma. Many of DC’s dignitaries attended, including TV journalist Andrea Mitchell, and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde.
The concert began with an introduction from Washington Performing Arts (WPA) President and CEO Jenny Bilfield. She proudly shared with the audience about WPA’s Embassy Adoption Program which is celebrating 40 years. Each year 50 fifth and sixth graders in the DC Public Schools partner with 50 embassies where children are immersed in different cultures. A video was shown also to highlight the works of the WPA’s Embassy Adoption Program which ties in with the Silk Road. WPA produced The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma with generous support from Dr. Gary Mather and Ms. Christina Co Mather.
So what is the Silk Road? The Silk Road is a historical road of trade routes that brought together many cultures alone the route. The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma have been together for 15 years with stellar musicians from all over the world.
The incredible musicians include: Clarinetist Kinan , from Syria, multi-style cellist Mike Block from United States, bassist Shawn Conly from Honolulu, violinist Nicholas Cords from New York, tabla virtuoso Sandeep Das, violinist and composer Johnny Gandelsman from Moscow, percussionist and composer Joseph Gramley from Oregon, violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen from the United States, cellist and conductor Eric Jacobsen from the United States, virtuoso on the kamancheh Kayhan Kalhor from Iran, cellist Yo-Yo Ma from the United States, Galician composer, pianist and gaita virtuosa Cristina Pato, American percussionist and composer Shane Shanahan, percussionist and composer Mark Suter, Japanese-Danish performer and composer Kojiro Umezaki from Tokyo, pipe master Yang Wei from Taiwan, and sheng, bawu, and suona virtuoso and singer and composer Wu Ton from Beijing.
The concert started off with a bang with all 16 musicians on stage playing together. The percussion section was in the middle, on either side are strings, on the far left side was the clarinet and bagpipes and on the far right was the bawu.
The first piece was Side In Side Out by Kojiro Umezaki. It sounded Arabian. The drums and the horns on this piece made an enchanting sound. Also in use was a clacking instrument, which heightened the movement. The song went from very loud to very quiet. The bawu, a Chinese wind instrument, was played which sounds like a bird. The sitar and bawu answered each other. The highlight of this piece was the dramatic playing of the bawu by Wu Ton.
After this piece, the ever, ebullient Yo-Yo Ma addressed the crowd. “I’m so glad you made it! I hope you noticed the Iberian exhibit outside in the hallways. I’m so excited to be here.”
The composer of Side in Side Out, Umezaki shared, “I remember every conversation (with The Silk Road) the past 15 years. The memories come into the present as joyful and poignant.”
Ma responded, “My memory is fading fast!”
Ma then introduced the next piece Taranta Project by Giovanni Sollima who is from Siciliy. “Given the weather, imagine we are in Siciliy. What does it sound like? It is multi-layered culturally and you can hear it in his music.”
The Silk Road Ensemble then launched into Taranta Project. Only five musicians remained on stage. It started sweet and sad with violins and then drums. The drums picked-up the tempo. The strings flew. The coolest part of this piece was the drummer who used his own body as a drum and beat boxed. The audience LOVED it! The drummer even slapped his cheeks for musical effect. This song was all strings, drums, and cymbals. The violins sounded like the wind.
The third song was The Latina 6/8 Suite with Tarantella-Muineira, Tanguillo: The High Seas, Joropo-Festejo, Fandango: Prueba de Fuego. The piece was led by the multi-talented Galician Cristina Pato who played the bagpipes. Pato described the music as jazz with bagpipes. Nine musicians played. The piece started off with the bagpipes and drums with a lot clapping and foot stomping. The bagpipes definitely stole the show in this suite.
After an intermission,the audience was treated to Paramita by Zhao Lin. Paramita had eighteen musicians on stage. Instruments that were used inclded the piano, the bawu, the xylophone, drums, sitar and more. It built up into a crescendo and the loud crack of the drum made me jump! The xylophone was very pretty here, also cool sounding was the sitar. Also beautiful was the repeating of a theme by Pato’s piano playing which sounded like raindrops and the whole orchestra responded to it.
Next came Jugalbandi by Sandeep Das and Kayhan Kalhor. Das shared, “I feel I found a lost brother with Kayhan.” Four people performed this piece involving the tabla, violin, drums, and cello. In the beginning Das goes crazy fast on the tabla, which is quite impressive! All the artists had solo turns during the piece. The tabla and drummer then played fast together to awesome impact. Audience members stood to cheer after its conclusion.
The concert concluded with Wedding by Kinan Azmeh. Azmeh movingly dedicated the song to Syrians who have managed to fall in love the past four years during Syrian turmoil. He described the song happening in a Syrian village where the party is “long, loud, and unpredictable.” Just his dedication to the Syrian people gave the song poignancy and gave me goose bumps. The song involved 16 musicians. The highlight was the mandolin and clarinet in this piece. Azmeh plays the heck out of his clarinet ripping the high notes. The drums carry this piece as well.
After the final piece, the room came to a standing cheer.
The Silk Road Ensemble came out for a final encore and played two quick songs. One song was by Pete Seeger and the other an Indian song. The Pete Seeger song integrated the tabla, cello and sounded very country. The second song used the violin, xylophone, shake, drums, and flute. The xylophone and violin together was beautiful.
This was a magical ride of music that gave the audience chills, goose bumps and a way to appreciate all cultures of their beautiful gift of music.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo Yo Ma played one night only on March 1, 2015 at The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall– 2700 F Street, in Washington, DC. For future Kennedy Center events, check their performance calendar.