Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project

By Matthew-Walker, Robert | Musical Opinion, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project


Matthew-Walker, Robert, Musical Opinion


Robert Matthew-Walker outlines this fascinating development from the master cellist

For thousand of years, the Silk Road has been the conduit for travel and trade from Europe to the Far East, stretching from Venice in northern Italy to Kyoto in southern Japan. It is not a single 'road', but a series of trade routes, broadly similar but occasionally diverging to make alternative routes to the same destinations. As with the later western European Hanseatic League, the Silk Road has been more than a trading circuit, for along with trade came the people themselves, occas ionall y settling along the route but invariably bringing with them the influences and characteristics of their own cultures. Such influences are with us today and can be discerned by the ethnologically-minded in various aspects of human endeavour, including music.

Of all international musicians today, few are better placed than Yo-Yo Ma to investigate such musical connections and divergences. This outstanding cellist was born in Paris, to Chinese parents in 1955, and following a spectacularly successful period of study at the Juilliard School of Music in New York under Leonard Rose, Yo-Yo Ma has, already long before his yet to be celebrated 50th birthday, been universally recognised as a great master of his instrument.

Nor is this all: his recordings of the standard repertoire, and of the unjustly neglected works for cello; perhaps, for British music-lovers, his premiere recording of Gerald Finzi's Cello Concerto on Lyrita was the first indication of his mastery, have been expanded by a widely-divergent series or recordings of music outside the repertoire, moving, gradually but almost inevitably, into world music.

In this way, and by this process, Yo-Yo Ma bunded the Silk Road Project in 1998. As he has lid of it: "In my musical journey I have had the opportunity to learn from a wealth of different musical voices; from the immense compassion and wealth of Bach's Cello Suites to the ancient Celtic fiddle traditions alive in Appalachia, to the soulful strains of the Bandoneon of Argentina's tango cafes. …

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