It was a very fine musical fusion from Silkroad Ensemble at the Auckland Town Hall as part of the Auckland Arts Festival 2019 last Thursday night. Conceived by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma almost twenty years ago to be a musical expression of working together in the face of globalisation, the Ensemble literally embodies diversity. In addition to performing, the group also mentor and train musicians and teachers in musical collaboration.
Just like the Silk Road originally, the music of the Silkroad Ensemble is a link between East and West, it is an expression of cultural curiosity.
The Town Hall was packed to the rafters, and there was a real buzz in the crowd as if the audience knew they were in for a good night. Their reputation must have preceded them, for Silkroad Ensemble have not visited these Shores before. And a warm cheer greeted them as they took their places.
You can’t ignore the call of a bagpipe. The wild clarion call raised the hairs on our necks with Cristina Pato’s Fanfare on the Galician bagpipe or gaita. Pato is an incredible ambassador for Galicia in North West Spain with her complete mastery of the instrument. It surely must present technical challenges but she created sounds as if it were child’s play. Stepping into the sound was Wu Tong upon a suona or Chinese woodwind. Together the two had great fun parlaying against each other in harmony and in playful competition. It’s not often you hear the audience openly laughing in enjoyment, they loved it already.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the evening was the collective nature of this group. No single egos, no stand-alone soloist but a collection of supportive and collaborating artists.
Each took turns to speak to the audience and introduce the programme which made a warm friendship with their crowd. Many of the musicians were immigrants to their chosen country and the evening drew on their rich cultural heritage.
There was great ensemble playing on stage and a sense of improvisation which created fun and spontaneity. Extraordinary playing from Wu Tong on the reed instrument, the sheng, producing plaintive polyphony, then percussive sounds and then miraculously he seemed to be able to sing at the same time. The tabla playing of Sandeep Das had us transfixed, multi-rhythms building in complexity and adding vocal rhythms were exhilarating to hear.
One of the finest moments of the evening was Nora Fischer’s vocals in Ravel’s Kaddish a setting of a Hebrew song. Affecting melismas and decorations and a singer really inside the music with sensitive support from piano and viola, a perfect arrangement of the song. Also Tarang (Currents), the virtuosic skill in putting together three excellent percussionists within a complex system of counting (done with consummate charm by Sandeep Das) contrasting with the repeated cycle of voice strings was brilliantly done despite losing the volume and cogency of the latter a little.
Even more depth of involvement would have been delightful. Perhaps the missing cellist who flew home to be at the birth of his child left some gaps. The programme erred a little on the side of brevity. However, Silkroad Ensemble offered their musical spirit generously and gave the audience great fun and a glorious sense of ensemble. The audience spilled out into the warm evening with the joy of a shared musical experience.
Thank you Auckland Arts Festival 2019 for bringing such rich diversity and fun to our City.