Cellist Yo-Yo Ma calls it "the Internet of antiquity," but
throughout history, it has been called simply "The Silk Road."
The massive trade route connecting Asia with Europe, from the
first millennium BC through the middle of the second millennium AD,
was actually a web of routes that crisscrossed Eurasia from China
and Japan to Italy, serving as a vital conduit for not only
material goods - such as silk and gunpowder - but knowledge,
information, and ideas.
It is perhaps civilization's greatest symbol of global scientific
and cultural exchange, fostering the tolerance, understanding, and
appreciation of disparate traditions.
In much the same way, Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, launched by
the internationally acclaimed cellist in 1998, has developed into a
far-reaching network of different artistic, cultural, and
educational endeavors involving organizations from East and West.
At the heart of the Silk Road Project is a series of festivals
with partner cities and presenters in the United States, Europe,
and Asia. The kickoff began in Germany earlier this week at the
Schleswig- Holstein Musik Festival, and will extend through the
next two years, ending with a tour of Central Asia in the spring of
"The Silk Road represents essentially the exchanges that happen
between people for as long as people travel," says Mr. Ma, artistic
director of the program.
"It's interesting from a present-day point-of-view because of
that ever-present term 'globalization.' Somehow, to look at other
times in history where there have been global moments, global
cities, gives us a better perspective on what may be happening
today, so we can interpret the present and in some ways plan for
Led by Ma and executive director Theodore Levin, an
ethnomusicologist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. - along
with an international team of musicians, artists, and scholars -
the project serves as an umbrella organization and common resource.
A deliberate culture clash
Ma says the goal is to resuscitate classical music within a
broader global context while exploring the historical contributions
of the Silk Road, "to illuminate the heritages of its countries and
identify the voices that represent these traditions today."
Performances present indigenous musicians alongside Ma and
musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble in traditional works from Silk
Road countries, Western classical works influenced by Eastern
traditions - and specially commissioned pieces, 22 in all, that
reflect the spirit of the project. It's a kind of global "show and
tell" that allows Ma and his associates to "bear witness" to the
musical treasures that the project brings to life.
"By putting side by side traditional music like an ancient
Persian [melody] with a newly composed piece of music that refers
to that tradition, you can get a sense of evolution through time,"
Ma says. …