Fifteen years ago, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was already busy with a full and demanding career as a recitalist, a soloist with orchestras, and chamber music, launched the Silk Road Project, a music collective inspired by the cross-cultural exchange along the ancient Silk Road route. As befits an ensemble that performs music diverse in style and from varied musical traditions, the group includes Western classical instruments—violin, cello, double bass—but also features instruments from throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, South Asia, and China: Galician bagpipe; a kamancheh, a Persian fiddle; tabla or Indian drums; and the pipa, an ancient Chinese plucked string instrument, among others. The aim was to foster contemporary music, incorporating varied and established traditions, and that they have.
Now, the Silk Road Ensemble has released its fifth album, A Playlist Without Borders, which includes new music by jazz pianist Vijay Iyer, recently named a MacArthur Fellow, and the American avant-garde composer John Zorn, still young at 60. The Silk Road Ensemble marked the release of the new recording (and a DVD) with a Carnegie Hall concert in October and a West Coast tour. Tours across Europe and Asia continue during the next two years. The Silk Road has never sounded as good—or as fresh.
Mario R. Mercado is arts editor at Travel + Leisure.