Aug. 7, 2016 Tanglewood concert review by Dave Read
The Silk Road Ensemble, with Yo-Yo Ma, used the Koussevitsky Music Shed at Tanglewood like a high school during their Aug. 7, 2016 performance, presenting both lessons in social studies and the senior assembly. Eighteen years since being co-founded by Yo-yo Ma at Ozawa Hall, the Ensemble presented a program that displayed their global roots, with segments being introduced by various members, each of whom stressed the social while while eschewing the pedantic.
They talked about being ready now to leave home, after 18 years of growing up; but the effect of the concert was a synthesis of disparate musical traditions, culminating in a glorious global hoedown, to wit: Kinan Azmeh’s composition Wedding, his representation of a Syrian wedding celebration, a public jam session that could last for days. His dedication, to “all the Syriancs who have managed to fall in love in the past five years,” gave the audience an opportunity to express solidarity with those beleaguered people. An extra-musical takeaway from the evening was the opportunity to look at and celebrate the wild differeces among peoples without resorting to polemics. Extra-musical? yes – not beyond, but to the max!
The audience responded to the opening minute or so with tittering and noisy whispers, because of the novelty of a strange instrument on one side of the stage communicating with an equally unfamiliar one on the other side. By the time Fanfare for Gaita and Suona concluded though, the whole house was totally into the world music thing, and the party was on. The gaita is the bagpipe of the Galician people from the northwest part of the Iberian peninsula, the suona is a Chinese horn, and the piece was developed by the players Cristina Pato and Wu Tong, who are as dissimilar to each other in appearance as are their instruments.
Like many of their colleagues, these two were featured several times tonight; Wu Tong especially notable for his singing, including both Manchurian and English verses of Going Home, which may merit a place in World Music lore for being lyrics set to the score of Czech composer Dvorak’s 1893 New World Symphony while in America, and which sounds like a Shaker hymn! When everything is improbable, nothing is, so, another highlight of this show was the Ensemble’s almost cinematic rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s Take the A Train, which took the audience on a raucous, rumbling ride under the streets of Manhattan and Harlem, with images of Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke Ellington Orchestra flashing in their minds.