By Dave Read (July 28, 2022 concert) – Paris-born and Berkshires resident, Yo-yo Ma, has handed the reins of the Silkroad Ensemble to Rhiannon Giddens, who was born in Greensboro, NC, and lives in Limerick, Ireland. Such personal details may not be required for membership in the world music community, but, in the words of the American sage Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”
Mr. Ma convened the original Silkroad Ensemble in Ozawa Hall in 2000, gathering musicians who play the music of peoples found along the metaphoric silk road, a network of trade routes that connected the occident and the orient for millinnia.
Previous Silkroad Ensemble concerts betrayed an instructional purpose, with the focus on locating the various instrumental and vocal traditions within their native social and political environments; the auditor was entertained and enlightened by way of a tantalizing buffet of discrete musics. (Our reviews: 2016, 2012).
Now all grownup, the Silkroad Ensemble feels more like a large band and their performance is way more concert than musical seminar. Yo-yo Ma delighted the audience by accompanying Ms. Giddons on an encore number – and got a big laugh when he pretended to fuss with the tuning of his cello while she did with her banjo.
Since being introduced to Dave Van Ronk more than fifty years ago, the blues has been my bag, and so I came away from this performance feeling as if I’d attended a blues concert. In fact, it was the great blues welfare organization, Music Maker Relief Foundation, that brought Rhiannon Giddens to my attention, when they released her first record in 2006.
Likewise, someone with a percussion prejudice may have left Ozawa Hall feeling as if, finally, drumming has been given the prominence it deserves.So too, could a devotee of the Celtic harp, or the pippa, violin, or flute, for that matter. What matters is that Rhiannon Giddens has become the nucleus of a big family of musicians who blend into one big gorgeous instrument that thrilled the full house and lawn of Ozawa Hall.
Her renditions of O Death and St. James Infirmary Blues are what lead me to file this concert in the same folder as such others in this venue as Sonny Rollins, Dave Brubeck, Jay McShann, Casandra Wilson, Duke Robillard, and Lousiana Red.
The reason music can be a force that unites peoples otherwise alienated from one another, is because it eschews polemic and does not pitch any particular point of view. Music, like all art, imitates nature, not culture, which is a man-made thing that divides people.
Would that someone invent a music-only microphone, which will transform the extra-musical talk of musicians into jabberwocky. Musicians should emulate Bob Dylan and let their music speak for itself. Trust us, dear virtuosi, we’ll know that if it sounds good, it is good.