Off the Map

Here be monsters: trans-ethnic collaborations take the listener beyond

Author: 
Peter Dickinson

Off the Map

  • Air to Air
  • Sulvasutra
  • Ritmos Anchinos
  • Empty Mountain Spirit Rain

The Silk Road Ensemble, which appeared at the Proms last season, was founded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998 “to connect the world’s neighbourhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe”. These high-profile American composers and performers fuse Eastern and Western traditions. Three of the four works include a string quartet along with various Eastern instruments and the celebrated pipa-player Wu Man is in three pieces. This trans-ethnic tradition was pioneered by Henry Cowell and more recently by Lou Harrison, whose Concerto for Pipa and Strings has been recorded by Wu Man (Mode, 7/08).

Ritmos Anchinos by Gabriela Lena Frank features the sheng, a Chinese mouth organ, as well as the pipa, a Chinese lute, and integrates these instruments effectively with the string quartet. The two movements of Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain by Angel Lam, with shakuhachi, are more contemplative, with a story about a five-year-old girl’s mystical encounter with her grandmother when she fails to realise that the old lady has died. Sulvasutra by Bang on a Can clarinettist Evan Ziporyn is Indian in influence with the tabla and traditional rhythmic structures.

Golijov is closer to folk than classical in his Air to Air, which employs the largest ensemble here. There’s a Galician bagpiper, an arrangement of an Arab melody, an incorporated Mexican field-recording and finally a Sardinian protest song. It’s a heady mix and Golijov knows how to package it for maximum impact. The CD booklet contains interviews but no biographies.

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