Grammy-Award Winning Silk Road Ensemble Shares World Cultures through Song

Starting with slow, lingering notes, Cristina Pato began to play her bagpipes with passion in “My Lethe Story: The River of Forgetfulness.” She then switched back to softly playing a melody on the piano accompanied by violinist Johnny Gandelsman’s long bow strokes. Later, Pato tells a narration about her mother’s battle with memory loss during last Friday night’s performance by the Silk Road Ensemble.

“It was a combination of story and music. The woman who wrote the song, who was a member of the Silk Road Ensemble, talked about her personal experiences with her mother and her mother becoming more forgetful, as well as the legends associated with the town in Spain where she was from. I also really loved the bagpipes. They had a completely different sound to them, like they tried to imitate different sounds of the area. They didn’t quite sound like an instrument, more like a living, moving city. The piece is quite beautiful,” said Gracie Limoncelli ’18, a concert attendee.

“My Lethe Story: The River of Forgetfulness” was one of six pieces performed at the Silk Road Ensemble’s concert in Cochran Chapel. The Grammy-award winning ensemble play a variety of instruments from around the world, from the bagpipes to the tabla, a South Asian drum. The ensemble was also created by famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma in order to advance global understanding and exchange, which was part of the reason Holly Barnes, Director of Performance, decided to invite them to campus.

“Their mission was really to take people from other cultures and find common ground and share in their differences. So it’s a way to put forth this sort of Earth in a musical way and say we are more common than we are different, and we can use music as a way to talk to one another and understand each other’s culture and history better and that’s huge right now. And that’s a lot of what [Andover] stands for, so it was a good group to bring on campus and they do great music,” said Barnes.

The ensemble also performed “King Ashoka,” a piece composed by Silk Road Ensemble tabla player, Sandeep Das. It began with a Buddhist chant sung by Wu Tong and slowly progressed to the entire onstage ensemble playing their instruments together. The energetic and unpredictable piece heavily featured percussion and concluded with a series of loud taps from the tabla, a pair of South African drums, and the other percussion instruments on stage.

“The period that King Ashoka ruled is called the ‘Golden Period’ of Indian history because he was a king that fought wars and conquered a lot of land in the country. [The song] starts with a Buddhist chant and moves into a beautiful solo for the cello and the bass, which is in my way an attempt to describe the anguish [of King Ashoka],” said Das during the performance.

The show concluded with “In C” by Terry Riley. Throughout the piece, string instruments like the mainly dominated the fast melody with the piano and tabla playing as well. The music slowly faded out with fast, quiet strokes on the viola to conclude the piece.

“This is a very important piece in American music written in 1964. It’s really just an open composition, and we move together like a school of fish through the piece, and we try not to stray too far away from one another, so we don’t lose the pack, but one of the beautiful things about this piece is that any collection of instruments can play,” said Nicholas Cords, a viola player in the Silk Road Ensemble during the performance.