Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble Heads for the Proms
But in Ma’s mind there’s a much deeper raison d’être for the Silk Road. He is acutely conscious of having personal roots in three continents: China, where his family came from; Europe, which gave him his earliest memories; and America, which nurtured him in a series of hothouse music academies after he was spotted as an infant prodigy by the violinist Isaac Stern. That sense of the globe as an interconnected entity, and of the human species as a single family, was probably intensified when (in addition to his musical studies) he did a degree in anthropology at Harvard. He believes that creativity has always been at its strongest in societies that have been open to influences from outside.
Ma calls this the “edge effect” — a term that he has borrowed from science to describe the point where two ecosystems meet and mingle. “It’s where you have the least density but the greatest variety,” he explains. And he says that, far from being a unique characteristic of our modern global-village age, this cross-fertilising of cultures has always gone on.
[...] So the Silk Road, in Ma’s view (if not always in the eyes of the critics), is far more than a glorified jam-session band for lots of world musicians and a few classical stars. It’s a serious intellectual attempt (backed by a residency at Harvard) to forge a new kind of music: one that draws on all cultures, mixing written and oral traditions, arthouse and vernacular. The ensemble’s Prom should give a flavour of that. One piece will offer an interplay of many different flutes, in cultures from Lebanon to Japan. “What’s interesting is that the flute is used for meditation in Japan and in the Sufi tradition of Persia, while in China it is played by lovers to each other. So you start to see the connections.”