Silkroad ensemble

The Silkroad Ensemble appeared in a documentary screening on Monday, Nov. 4, and will perform at Penn State on Nov. 5. 

Many argue that witnessing and creating art is one of the primary experiences essential to life, which was discussed in the screening of “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble."

The screening was hosted by the Center for the Performing arts on Nov. 4.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film myself, and it is powerful,” Nicholas Cords, violist and one of the artistic directors of the ensemble said.

CPA screened the film in anticipation of the Silkroad Ensemble’s upcoming performance at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 5 at Eisenhower Auditorium.

“Our home is in Eisenhower Auditorium,” Amy Vashaw, audience and program development director for CPA, said as she apologized for what she thought was a more informal event. However, the audience felt differently as the documentary expressed themes of art, beauty and creativity.

The Silkroad Ensemble is composed of individuals from different backgrounds and cultures who play a variety of instruments.

“Each individual in this story has such a profound experience,” Cords said. “I also have to say it’s so alarming to see oneself on screen.”

The documentary followed Yo-Yo Ma and various members of the Silkroad Ensemble. In the documentary, Ma explained his love of music and what led to the creation of the ensemble throughout the film.

“I never committed to being a musician,” Ma said. “I just did it.”

Ma explained his past and how it has shaped the way he views music. When Leonard Bernstein visited Harvard while Ma was a student, Bernstein taught him the idea of seeing music as a universal language.

The formation of the Silkroad Ensemble was described as “the Manhattan Project of music” in the documentary, as Yo-Yo Ma traveled the world in search of the best and most dedicated musicians.

“Along the way I think we became more fascinated with the metaphor of the Silk Road,” Cords said.

The members of the ensemble featured in the filmed shared the commonality of having immigrated to the United States. Those who immigrated to New York City originally worked jobs as a taxi driver or in restaurants before landing their current artistic careers.

"The Music of Strangers" Film Screening

Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian composer, kamancheh player and member of the Silk Road Ensemble, plays a piece on his kamancheh while Nicholas Cords, a viola player and one of the Silk Road Ensemble’s inaugural co-artistic directors, holds up a microphone during the Q&A following the screening of the documentary “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble” in Freeman Auditorium in the HUB-Robeson Center on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019.

Cristina Pato, who plays the Galician bagpipes, said in her culture in Galicia, she had a choice between playing the bagpipes or playing soccer.

“The sound of the bagpipes is the sound of Galicia,” Pato said.

The documentary drew attention to members of the ensemble whose see struggle in their home countries. Clarinet player Kinan Azmeh expressed his frustrations with the lack of mainstream attention to the crisis in Syria.

“Just three days ago, people died of cold. It was simple as that,” Azmeh said.

Kayhan Kalhor, who was featured in the documentary, attended the screening to give a brief performance to preview the rest of the ensemble. He played the Kamancheh, which is an Iranian bow instrument.

“Kamancheh literally means small hunting bow in Persian,” Kalhor said.

He gave a brief lesson on the Kamancheh, and explained how to play it. Instead of moving the bow, he used his hand to move the entire instrument. Kalhor described it as “awkward” to play at times.

The screening led with a common theme of the power music and art have in life.

“In order to be alive, you have to let go,” Ma said.

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