Saturday, August 14, 2010

Blossom: The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma

Pato: Caronte
Persian Traditional: Ascending Bird (arr. Aghaei & Jacobsen)
Ji: Wine Madness (arr. Tong & Lin)
Golijov: Air to Air
Sollima: The Taranta Project
Das: Shristi
Traditional: Ambush from Ten Sides (arr. Samg & Tong)
Plus two unannounced encores.
Yo-Yo Ma, Artistic Director

I suppose I didn't read the Blossom Festival schedule closely enough, as up until a few days ago I was of the mind that tonight's program was The Silk Road Ensemble with The Cleveland Orchestra (or with the Blossom Festival Orchestra, as the case may be) -- instead of The Silk Road Ensemble standing alone. Nonetheless, with the exception of a distracting audio thing* it was a fascinating evening of music spanning a wide variety of styles, moods, and tempos.

Like today's weather, not only was the program varied, most of the individual components couldn't simply be summarized with a "fast" or "slow", "happy" or "melancholic" label that would apply to the entire piece, though the "folk song" label popped into my mind on more than one occasion. With every piece just about the time my interest would start to wain, the music would take a sudden turn and recapture my full attention.

It's difficult to select a favorite piece from the program, though if pressed it would be either the second encore or Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian song arranged by members of The Silk Road Ensemble, about birds trying to reach the sun. After two failed attempts, the birds reach the sun and in fire the corporal transcends into the spiritual, and in tonight's concert one certainly got that impression from the instrumentation.

Particularly notable were Sandeep Das' Shristi, and Wu Tong's Sheng playing. Shiristi is a piece entirely for percussion including a playful movement of what I can only describe as bodily percussion with one musician hitting himself in different ways to generate recognizable sounds. The Sheng, and instrument I've never seen before, had a beautiful sound when played by Wu Tong. It's described in the program notes as a "Chinese mouth organ," and I'm not really sure of a more succinct way to put it: It looks like a miniature organ, it sounds like an organ--I was in disbelief that those sounds were coming from that instrument, but it's far more portable than a pipe organ.

Throughout the performance a playful rivalry and oneupsmanship could be seen, which only enhanced the entertainment factor of the performance.

I do have to say that I wasn't a fan at all of the sound of the Galician Bagpipes, making Caronte a challenging beginning to the program. Perhaps it is because bagpipes are the one instrument I truly don't care for the sound of, or perhaps it was the sensation I had that the bagpipes obliterated the sound of every other instrument on the stage (see also "distracting audio thing*")

*- Ok, so I'm pretty sure it was the way the sound was mixed or amplified, but it could have been an odd manifestation of venue acoustics, but from my seat, about half way back and a few degrees house right of center, everything sounded as if it was being panned hard right in the mix: I heard nothing or nearly nothing from the center cluster, and my ear kept drawing my eye to the house left wall, where the sound seemed to be coming from, while the instruments producing the sound were all either center or left of where I was.
(Correction: 2010-08-15 - A reader pointed out that I had typoed "Silk" in the title; such is one of the perils of blogging shortly before midnight)

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