The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble Review – Bravo, Magnifique, A Masterpiece

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The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble, from The Orchard and Participant Media, debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival, to rave reviews of the power of music, in all its forms, to bridge cultural differences and divides.

Directed by Morgan Neville, The Music of Strangers, brings to the center stage more than 50 of the world’s best, known and unknown, musical virtuoso’s including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the most unassuming masterclass musician in the world, Grammy nominee Kayhan Kalhor, of Iran, playing the Kamancheh, Cristina Pato, of Spain, a wild woman on Galician bagpipes, Kinan Azmeh, of Syria, playing the Clarinet, and Wu Man, of china, a Chinese and pipa (Chinese guitar).

The Music of Strangers opens with a pop up style concert, which appears like street artists in some country while a canvass artist draws a piece to the music. The sounds, exuberance of the musicians, the seascape boardwalk all lend the imagination to a magical vacation moment where as a stranger in a distant land by chance, luck, kismet, you’ve wondered on a lifetime memory. The crowd grows as the music escalates, a contemporary scene, phones are out and recording as some recognize the virtuosos.

Yo-Yo Ma, perhaps one of the most famous, or the most famous cellist in the world, acts as narrator and subject. As founder of the Silk Road project, he explains the drive in his soul. Music, has been his life as the film unfolds: Beginning his classical music study at four, the prodigy, a child of seven, smartly dressed in tuxedo, played for President John F. Kennedy and First lady Jacqueline to their delight.

His ancestry a father determined leaves China to study in Paris, moves his family to New York to ensure a better life and the best educational opportunities. Ma speak of music as all he can remember, his earliest memories and the passion, a love, for sharing the delight of music. The soul, more than notes, more than compositions, the fullness of life that arts, music and artistic expression provide.

The Music of Strangers is more than the upper west side of Manhattan, Juilliard trained, and Harvard educated Ma. He travels to places where he will get his hands dirty; where life isn’t easy. He talks of his marriage, of 38 years, and only being home for two years of it. And he introduces the Silk Road Ensemble.

When we first see the ensemble, at the coastal town, we have already seen the professional side. So when the film takes us through their lives, to the places of humble beginnings, and tragic times, we are encouraged and surprised.

The stories from Iranian musician, Kayhan Kalhor, of driving a hack in New York City, his life back home, was a sorrow so deep that few ever experience, as his entire family died in bombings. Seeing him play an kamancheh, (ka-man-che), stringed instrument, so unusual and unknown visually to audiences creates almost a dichotomy as curiosity and aversion are instantaneous. He is a master.

The introduction to Galician bagpiper wild women, Cristina Pato, is again in the beginning during our once-in-a-lifetime street pick up concert. We also travel on The Silk Road to her home, in Spain where she is a pop star known for the bagpipes, which are the traditional instrument of Spain. To her home, to meet her mother and family, where she offers a glimpse into her life.

We also meet Syrian musician Kinan Azmeh. His love of the clarinet is only matched by his love of country. His Syria, the land in his heart, is under siege. His countrymen, the innocent, are suffering. He takes the camera into the Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps. He shares his success and love of music to those who are deeply affected by the Syrian Civil War.

Not surprising, Azmeh shows two distinctive camps, the Lebanese shanty town camp (where are the billions going that the United States has authorized?) and the more civilized, clean and modern Jordanian refugee city. A side note: Noticeably absent in the refugee camps were computers, the one child one computer program, hasn’t made its way into the refugee camps where the skills and communication tools are needed the most.

Also featured in The Music of Strangers: The Silk Road Ensemble is Chinese rock star Wu Man. With a quick smile Wu Man is the premiere pipa (lute like, Chinese guitarist). Her instrument is the traditional instrument of Chinese. She is classically (The Pudong School) and traditionally (Imperial China) trained. Her skill is stunning and she has a great a sense of humor.

Acclaimed, honored, dedicated The Silk Road Ensemble members are the world best musicians. They are a humble lot, of fun-loving in fact, even the most globally acclaimed Yo-Yo Ma, wouldn’t be recognized in some places of the world. The music they share is as unique as they.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble is so much more than an introduction to culture, to music, it is the story of the soul. Of notes that drive the soul, through war, and sorrow, through joy and despair.

A documentary worthy of the world's attention! The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble from virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma, the most unassuming masterclass musician in the world, as he allows us the opportunity to travel inside, backstage, in the lives and homes of his unassuming band of the world's best musicians.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble is the music of friends. A fusion of cultures! share it; petition for wide scale free viewing; spend a summer evening listening to the sounds of the world.

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and The Silk Road Ensemble opens June 10, 2016. Experience this documentary. You’ll be glad you did and feel honored that you had the opportunity. 

For more information on The Silk Road Project: http://www.silkroadproject.org/

Images courtesy of Participant Media and used with permission.

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