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A Glittery Cast’s Cultural Exchange

06.10.09
Silkroad Ensemble
The New York Times

After two relatively subdued programs at Alice Tully Hall last weekend, the Silk Road Project, celebrating its 10th anniversary and Lincoln Center's 50th, pulled out all the stops on Tuesday evening in a free concert at the Damrosch Park band shell. Lincoln Center estimates that 3,500 listeners braved the threatening weather, which in the end produced only a few late sprinkles, and the event was telecast as part of the PBS series "Live From Lincoln Center."

Much of the interest undoubtedly stemmed from the star power of the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the artistic director of the Silk Road Project, a performing and educational enterprise devoted to musical globalization and named for the ancient trade route between Eastern Asia and Western Europe. But the beauty of the project is that it has from the start attracted international performers whose musical virtuosity and personal charisma rival those of Mr. Ma, who often takes a back seat.

Such performers abounded on Tuesday. In addition to the already glittery weekend cast - Wu Man, Wu Tong, Kojiro Umezaki, Dong-Won Kim, Sandeep Das, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova - Kayhan Kalhor, the Iranian master of the kamancheh, a Persian string instrument with a wiry timbre, performed and led his "Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur" (2000), one of the first and most enduring works composed for the project. And Cristina Pato, a flamboyant Galician bagpiper, energized raucous music from Osvaldo Golijov's "Air to Air" (2006), which was largely inspired by her first encounter with the project, in a workshop.

She was challenged in the Golijov by Wu Tong's lively squawking on the sheng (Chinese mouth organ complete with pipes). Wu Tong also revealed his versatility, first playing a bawu (Chinese bamboo flute) in the opening "Silk Road Suite," with Mr. Umezaki on shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) and Mr. Kim, a Korean drummer and vocalist. Then Wu Tong sang a fetching Chinese love song by Zhao Lin, accompanied by Mr. Ma.

Wu Man brought her familiar, astounding virtuosity on pipa (Chinese lute) to a solo number in the suite. Mr. Das, playing tabla (Indian drums), led a battery of percussionists in his "Shristi" (2006), based on a tale of creation involving Shiva and his drum.

Mr. Qasimov and his daughter, Ms. Qasimova, the stars of the tragic Azerbaijani opera "Layla and Majnun" on Saturday, turned their vocal artistry to livelier matters in two songs. And the ensemble repeated an encore from Saturday, Mohammed Abdel Wahab's "Night at the Caravanserai."

Guest artists included percussionists from the University of Michigan and string players from the Manhattan School of Music, though the added strings barely registered in the crude and unbalanced amplification of "Blue as the Turquoise Night."

Mr. Ma added connective chatter and cheerleading of a sort more appropriate to a children's concert. Better by far was his summary of the project's big lesson on Saturday: The deeper you dig into any local tradition, the more you find something global.