Road music rambunctious

04.12.11
Silk Road Ensemble
Vancouver Sun

Silk Roads Ensemble creates celebratory mood
 
By David Gordon Duke

The latest North American tour of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble ended in Vancouver Sunday evening. A very full Orpheum Theatre got into the celebratory mood almost at once, for what proved a rambunctious evening of multicultural exploration.

It's no surprise that this diverse complement of musicians, who play instruments from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and beyond, require tailor-made repertoire. The program began with Silk Road Suite, a quartet of disparate works by ensemble members that samples varying aspects of the group and ends with a showcase for Cristina Pato, a high-intensity virtuoso on the Galician bagpipes.

The remainder of the program presented works by contemporary composers grappling with the considerable challenges of multi-ethnic scoring. One of the most truly engaging pieces was by Kayan Kalhor, whose Silent City is conceived for western strings plus Kalhor's own instrument, the Persian kamanche, with just a judicious touch of percussion. This extended work begins in an understated atmospheric wash of sound, then progresses to a mood of stately melancholy before ending with an uptempo coda. Kalhor's work proved convincing and natural, the performance impeccable.

Gabriela Lena Fran's new ¡Chayrag!: Rough Guide to a Modern Day Tawantinsuyu is a series of miniatures for three strings -violin, cello and Chinese pipa -and two busy percussionists. Well made and often witty, it ends up being rather conventional music for such an unconventional group.

A shakuhachi solo featured Kojiro Umezaki in a beautifully nuanced performance before the final work, the four-movement suite Air to Air by Osvaldo Golijov, took us back to music for the entire ensemble.

Golijov is a practised composer with an extremely clear idea of his music. The suite has its sentimental aspects, but is assured, focused and engaging. The finale, based on an 18th-century Sardinian protest song, is nothing short of a rout -much intensified by another stellar contribution by the irrepressible Cristina Pato. A set of encores raised the temperature even higher: great work from one of the 21st century's great ensembles.