Review: New York Philharmonic and Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble Join Forces

Yo-Yo Ma, Silkroad Ensemble
The New York Times

By James R. Oestreich

At a time when symphony orchestras struggle at the box office and surefire audience draws are few, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma continues to work magic. The New York Philharmonic’s three subscription concerts this week, in which the orchestra is joined — all but displaced — by Mr. Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, were sold out well in advance.

And most of the Philharmonic’s notoriously conservative subscriber base probably had no clear idea of what was in store. Even those who have followed the Silk Road Project from the beginning in 2000 had yet to hear how well the motley and exotic Silk Road Ensemble would blend with a full symphony orchestra.

As it happened, there was little question of blend since the Philharmonic was represented before intermission by only two players, briefly, and by its music director, Alan Gilbert. In the opening Fanfare for Gaita, Suona and Brass (2012), by Cristina Pato and Wu Tong, Joseph Alessi, the orchestra’s principal trombonist, and Matthew Muckey, its acting principal trumpeter, provided milder responses to the raucous utterances of Ms. Pato on gaita, a Galician bagpipe, and Hu Jianbing on suona, a Chinese trumpetlike oboe.

There was no end of virtuosity among the Silk Road players, most notably Kayhan Kalhor, a consummate virtuoso and soulful singer on the kamancheh, an Iranian spike fiddle. Other stars were Kinan Azmeh, on clarinet; Mr. Umezaki, on shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute; and Wu Man on pipa, a Chinese lute.

In the end, the audience heard both more and less of Mr. Ma than it might have expected. He was onstage most of the evening, playing a subservient role within the ensemble, but his few substantial solos sang out proudly and eloquently.

The audience, in any case, roared its approval.

Read the full review here.