Silk Road Ensemble -20 March 09

This is an unusual first posting from Keith, rather than commenting on Cathy’s primary post.

Cathy has decided not to post on musical performances, except “Musicals”, and we do not se many of them. We do not go to many straight musical acts either – its just easier to listen to recorded music and sometimes the “live” performance adds little – e.g. Tallis Scholars, most orchestral performances.

However, this weekend there were three shows we (or at least I) wanted to see. Two of them clashed but Cathy agreed to come with me to the two we could get to.
On Friday night we saw the second of two shows by the Silk Road Ensemble at Roy Thomson Hall. (The first show was on Thursday night and had different pieces and performers.) This was a great show and a show worth seeing because the instruments were so alien to us in many cases and the performers interacted visually, as well as aurally, with improvisation between scored pieces.
The first half consisted of Silk Road Suite and Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain. Silk Road Suite has five “movements” – really separate pieces demonstrating the wide range of music along the Silk Road route. All quite fascinating, with the percussion especially interesting, and amazing in its variety, particularly in Saidi Swing. The last movement was Arabian Waltz – a rousing jazzy number we have on their recording with the Chicago Symphony. Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain was a smaller scale more personal and “angular” modern piece which I enjoyed less, although I thought it okay – but Cathy seemed to like.
The second half started with Paths of Parables based on five Sufi tales. Kojiro Umezaki acted as narrator and has a great voice (Cathy: now you know what I want for my birthday – his voice); however the parables are rather trite and I found it like reading a book in slow motion, with musical accompaniment. Not my favorite. Ascending Bird, a Persian piece finished the regular show in a much more satisfactory manner for me – again with a fascinating variety of percussion. It is amazing the number of ways people have found to produce sound by banging on things.
Then, came the encores, when everyone was on stage and the players really loosened up – it was the last night of the this three-week tour. Most spectacular was a “duel” between the tabla player Sandeep Das, playing something which looked like a wooden box with holes, and Wu Tong on Sheng. The Sheng is an amazing instrument, at least in Wo Tong’s hands. It is a sort of Chinese harmonica – but that doesn’t do justice to the range of music he got out of the thing – you kept looking for the rest of the orchestra – and the two of them really rocked! It would have been fascinating to be able to sit around and watch this group of superb musicians improvise around one another for a few hours. Oh well, still a great show.

About cathyriggall

Theatre junkie, who thinks live theatre is the ultimate form of living on the edge. You never know what will happen when an actor steps on the stage.
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