Smooth As Silk
As Dr. Levin and Ma point out, the music
of the Silk Road has permeated so-called
Western music from its very beginnings.
For example, the sarabande, a slow
dance of Elizabethan times incorporated in
many works of J.S. Bach, is a dance of
Mapping The Silk Road
Moorish origin that came to Europe during the 12th
century when the Moors invaded Spain. Its name is
In creating the Silk Road Project, Ma had assistance
a transliteration of an Arabic word meaning "noise."
from one of the most respected ethno-musicologists
The April 21 program consists of both folk music
in the world, Dr. Ted Levin of Dartmouth University.
A specialist in the music of Asia, Dr. Levin first visit- and music newly composed with strong folk origins.
Traditional music from China, Armenian folk songs
ed the area in 1974, when he was a graduate student
and music of the Roma (Gypsies) are interspersed
at Princeton University. In 1990, he began what
with classical music from Azerbaijan and works by
became a four-year quest to uncover traditional music
four modern composers.
throughout Central Asia. His book, The Hundred
In The Prospect of Colored Desert, commissioned by
Thousand Fools of God, follows that quest.
the Silk Road Project in 2000, Chinese composer Jia
As a Central Asian musicologist explains in the
Da Qun "colorizes" a black ink brush painting of a
book, "For a fool of God, music first and
desert with Chinese and Western instruments. The
foremost conveys a moral and spiritual
composer studied to become a painter before prob-
power, and performing music is a calling
lems with his eyesight made him look to music to
that carries a moral responsibility."
express his worldview.
Dr. Levin spent a good deal of time with
Composer Shane Shanahan, who wrote Mahur
a Bukharan Jewish community of musi-
Orientale, is a specialist in hand-drumming tradi-
cians, not only studying their music but
tions from around the world. A mahur is a mode
also following their lives from their home-
(scale progression) used in Persian art music.
land in what is now Uzbekistan to new
Ma picks up his cello for A. Adnan Saygun's
lives in Israel and New York.
Partita for Solo Cello. This Turkish composer, who
"Bukhara had been a crossroads of faith,
died in 1991, drew on his travels across Anatolia
with Jews, Muslims, Christians and
and his exposure to Turkish art song, folk song,
Buddhists living there for a -thousand years,"
Dr. Levin said. "Jews had assumed the role of dance and gypsy music.
Kayhan Kalhor, who was born in Tehran, Iran, corn-
musicians, especially the woman, who were
bines string quartet, kamancheh and tombak (Persian
"The Bukharan Jews assumed the cultural goblet drums) in his Gallop of a Thousand Horses.
Kalhor, who teaches traditional Persian music in
identity of the Muslims," Dr. Levin
explained, "while keeping their own religion Iran, differentiates between the music of Persia and
its Arabic neighbors.
"At the height of the Persian empire, the music,
When the Bukharan musicians first came to the
poetry and literature of Persia spread to Central Asia,
United States in the late 1980s, Dr. Levin arranged
Turkey and the Mediterranean and North Africa," he
concerts for them in New York.
writes in the literature that accompanies
"People were shocked," he said.
his recordings. "Persian music can still be
"They said, These people can't be Jews.'
today in the music of Andalusia and
"They spoke Persian; they played a
the Spanish flamenco."
totally different kind of music that had
The Silk Road Project is a metaphor
nothing whatever to do with. Eastern
for the inevitable — and advantageous
European klezmer music."
— cultural exchanges between the
As a result of his book and associated
world's civilizations, Dr. Levin says.
research, Ma approached Dr. Levin to
"Music is more than itself," he said. "It
work with him to form the Silk Road
a continuity with ancient cultures."
Project. The Dartmouth professor took
Adds Ma, "By listening to and learning
a leave of absence to work as the pro-
from the voices of an authentic musical tra-
ject's executive director for more than
dition, we become increasingly able to
three years, followed by work as an
Musicologist Ted Levin advocate for the worlds they represent." ❑
As executive director; he organized
the group's enormously successful concert at the
Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble appear
Smithsonian Folklife Festival at the Mall in
at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 21, at Detroit
Washington, D.C., in 2002.
Country Day School's Seligman Performing
Along with his work at Dartmouth, Dr. Levin is
Arts Center in Beverly Hills. The performance,
now co-director of the Aga Khan Initiative in Central
made possible by a grant from the Ford Motor
Asia, a part of the Aga Khan Fund for Culture, one
Company Fund, is sold out except for a few
of the major funders of the Silk Road Project.
$500 donor seats. A waiting list for $120 tickets
"Our goal is to re-animate the music of the
has been set up for last-minute cancellations.
region and assure its transmission to future genera-
tions," he said.
The Silk Road Project and Yo-Yo Ma explore ancient roots of Western music.
Special to the Jewish News
or a single night, the Chamber Music
Society of Detroit departs from the
Western classical repertoire that has kept
it in business for 60 years.
Instead of sedate sonatas for violin, cello and
piano — with an occasional vocal or woodwind per-
formance to spice things up — the sold-out audi-
ence at Seligman Performing Arts Center in Beverly
Hills on Wednesday, April 21,
will hear music for pipa, sheng,
kamancheh and tar.
These are some of the instru-
ments of the Silk Road Project, an
exploration of the roots of Western
music led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Since 1998, the Silk Road Project
has gone to the diverse sources of
our cultural heritage, performing
the traditional works that formed
the basis for all Western music,
from Gregorian chants to hip-hop.
In addition, the project encourages
modern composers from every cor-
ner of the world to create new
works directly rooted in their
region's musical past.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma
The term "Silk Road" refers to
a series of routes that crisscrossed
Europe and Asia from the first millennium B.C.E.
through the middle of the second millennium C.E.
"In the course of 25 years of performing in differ-
ent parts of the world, I have become increasingly
intrigued by the migration of ideas among communi-
ties," Ma explains in a written introduction to the
project. "Throughout my travels, I have thought
about the culture, religions and ideas that have been
influential for centuries along these historic land and
sea routes, and have wondered how these complex
interconnections occurred and how new musical voic-
es were formed from the diversity of these traditions."
A pipa is a Chinese short-necked lute and a sheng is
a Chinese wind instrument made from bamboo and
bronze pipes. A kamancheh, native to Iran, Azerbaijan
and Armenia, is a string instrument otherwise known
as a spike fiddle and is played vertically. A tar, which
comes generally from the same part of the world, is a
bowl-shaped stringed instrument with a thin mem-
brane traditionally made of stretched lambskin cover-
ing the top, usually played with a brass pick.
Ma and his group have not totally abandoned
Western instruments. The works they'll perform at
the April 21 concert include performances on the vio-
lin, viola and cello — but with the instruments used
in ways tantalizingly unfamiliar to Western audiences.
Also on stage will be a host of exotic percussion
instruments, and some of the works will feature
Azerbaijani singer Alim Qasimov.
Across The Generations