Classical music meets the Far East

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Classical music meets the Far East

Arguably the best-known cellist in the world, Yo-Yo Ma, will perform at the Seoul Arts Center Thursday evening with the Silk Road Ensemble.
The concert will combine Western classical music with different genres of folk music native to regions surrounding the historic path of the Silk Road. The Silk Road was a large network of Eurasian trade routes that began to form before the time of Christ.
The Silk Road Ensemble, however, is central to the Silk Road Project, founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 to meld Western classical music with traditional music from all over the Far East.
“By listening to and learning from the voices of an authentic musical tradition, we become increasingly able to advocate the worlds they represent,” says Ma, who is also the artistic director of the ensemble.
Yo-Yo Ma, born in Paris in 1955, received the Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher award for young performers in 1978, becoming the first Asian musician to do so.
Ma has since released 50 albums and won 15 Grammy Awards.
Ma’s music is not limited to his classical cello repertoire; the crossover album “Hush,” which he recorded with Bobby McFerrin, was one of the best-selling albums on the Billboard chart in 1992.
The Silk Road Ensemble is described as not a group of fixed members, but a collection of like-minded musicians who explore ways to harmonize different types of ingenious musical traditions from both East and West.
Among the Eastern musical instruments that will be featured in the ensemble’s music Thursday are the pipa and sheng from China, and the gayageum from Korea.
The pipa is a short-necked, plucked wooden lute. Since the Tang Dynasty, which ruled from 618 to 907, the pipa has been a traditional instrument in China.
The sheng is a mouth organ with a bowl made of metal and wood, or gourd. It has a blowpipe and 17 or more bamboo and metal pipes that extend from the top of the bowl. The gayageum is a plucked zither made from a single piece of wood, and has ram horns carved on one end. Its 12 strings pass over 12 moveable bridges.
The Silk Road Ensemble has performed more than 100 times and released an album, “Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet,” in 2001.
The ensemble performs newly created pieces written by composers who were recommended to the group by a select committee of musicians and historians.
The program at the Seoul Arts Center will include a Korean traditional gayageum performance by Kim Ji-hyun.
Another gayageum piece, which is titled “Tryst,” composed by Kim Jee-young, will be played by Kim Ji-hyun along with Ma and oboist Rachel Walker.
Among other traditional music on the program will be an Armenian folk song, folk music of Azerbaijan, “Music of the Roma,” folk songs from Romania, and “The Prospect of Colored Desert,” a collection of folk songs from China.
The ensemble performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from 30,000 won ($26) to 180,000 won.
For more information, call (02) 720-6633 or visit online at:

by Limb Jae-un
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