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Silkroad ensemble - exotic musical sounds and sensations
The name 'Silkroad' conjures up images of the exotic East – of spices and silks carried by caravans of camels over the mountains of Mongolia. The Silkroad Ensemble is a diverse group of highly skilled musicians from every corner of the globe with a passion to engage and connect you to a wider musical imagination. Bringing together players, musical instruments and performances from across continents that meld and connect different cultures and traditions.
The group was established nearly twenty years ago by the internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. His aim was to promote the exchange of musical ideas and performances through collaboration and connection, as a metaphor for building a more accepting and interconnected world.
This concert brought together a wide range of musicians from diverse cultures. Five traditional European strings and two percussionists combined with a fresh and original set of Chinese instruments including the Pipa (a four-stringed lute), the Suona (a shrill and penetrating oboe) and the Sheng (a curious clustered set of short pipes - a sort of cross between a harmonica and a pipe organ).
There was quite a bit of multitasking on show at Hamer Hall last night. Kojiro Umewzaki on the Shakuhachi (a long, breathy end-blown flute) doubled as a storyteller, while Wu Tong (on the Suona) provided the haunting vocals to a traditional Chinese folk song.
The pieces were equally diverse, some traditional and some modern – with sounds and timbres unfamiliar to Western ears. Many in the audience had attended the earlier Silkroad performance of Layla and Majnun with the Mark Morris Dance Group. Their enthusiasm was genuine and unmistakable. Unfortunately, I didn't share it. It may be the ensemble was shown to greater advantage in a performing partnership than on its own.
This lack of direct engagement was partly a function of the setting. Eight talented performers playing quiet instruments were set far-back in the wide expanse of the stage at the Hamer Hall. This necessitated the use of microphones, amplification and distance rather than personal contact and immediate presence. The musical experience would have been far different in the more intimate setting of the Melbourne Recital Centre. But the overall impression was one of cool precision rather than spontaneous delight.