Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road Project headed for Europe, Asia

CHICAGO Thu Apr 19, 2007 11:20am EDT

Cellist Yo Yo Ma performs at the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, in this December 11, 2005 file photo. The Grammy Award-winning cellist who has devoted the past decade to his Silk Road Project, is taking the critically acclaimed cross-cultural music-making experiment to Europe and Asia. REUTERS/Alex Grimm

Cellist Yo Yo Ma performs at the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, in this December 11, 2005 file photo. The Grammy Award-winning cellist who has devoted the past decade to his Silk Road Project, is taking the critically acclaimed cross-cultural music-making experiment to Europe and Asia.

Credit: Reuters/Alex Grimm

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - Yo Yo Ma, the Grammy Award-winning cellist who has devoted the past decade to his Silk Road Project, is taking the critically acclaimed cross-cultural music-making experiment to Europe and Asia.

After its year-long Chicago residency ends in June the first stop will be Switzerland for a two-concert stint in Lucerne in late August, followed by a week-long residency at Zurich's Museum Rietberg.

Then the classical music star and his ensemble -- including Iranian santur player Siamak Aghaei, Armenian duduk player Gevorg Dabaghyan, Indian tabla player Sandeep Das and British storyteller Ben Haggarty -- will travel to China for two weeks of performances, including an appearance at the Special Olympics in Shanghai.

Additional dates for the project, which celebrates the cultural sharing symbolized by the ancient Silk Road trade route that ran from the heart of Asia to the European Mediterranean, are planned for India and Japan in 2008.

But none of the events will be as wide-ranging in scope as the Silk Road Project's run in Chicago, which culminates on June 5 with a free performance of "The Stone Horse," an ancient Chinese folktale, at the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Ma's Chicago program exploring cultural connections has also included the development of educational material that has brought the Chicago Public Schools into the fold.

"The Stone Horse" performance will include a drumming section made up of 500 fourth-graders from the city's public schools.

"If we ever tried to do this again," Ma joked during an informal lunch with reporters, "I'd have to have some armor. Sundeep would probably give me so much hot pepper that I would never be able to talk again."

Ma's life is, in some ways, the embodiment of the cross-cultural fusing the Silk Road Project represents. Born to Chinese parents in Paris, he was raised in New York. His professional career has involved performing and recording the cello repertory. But it also includes collaborations with American folk fiddlers like Mark O'Connor.

The idea for the Silk Road Project came to Ma after visits abroad, including one to the Middle East. In 1998, Ma began the legwork that led to the ensemble's first concert series in 2001.

In the intervening years, the 63 musicians from 21 countries who have played in the ensemble have traveled to more than two dozen countries.

But it was in Chicago that the project got ambitious. Ma said the city's ethnic diversity, history as a cultural crossroads and enthusiasm for the arts had made it the perfect spot for an extended run.

"Chicago chose itself," Ma said.