Celebrate the Power of Music with "The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble" debuting on HBO
Yo-Yo Ma / Photo: Courtesy of HBO
"The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble" Premieres Monday, March 6 at 8 PM ET/PT on HBO
Over the past 17 years, an extraordinary group of artists from around the world has come together to celebrate the universal power of music. Named for the ancient trade route linking Asia, Africa and Europe, the Silk Road Ensemble was conceived by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and consists of a diverse, rotating lineup of instrumentalists, vocalists, composers and storytellers. The collective exemplifies music’s ability to blur geographical boundaries, blend disparate cultures and inspire hope.
Directed by Morgan Neville (the Oscar®-winning “20 Feet from Stardom”), “THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE” follows members of the international ensemble as they gather in locations across the world, exploring the ways art can preserve traditions and shape cultural evolution.
Blending performance footage, interviews, behind-the-scenes film and archival clips, “THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: YO-YO MA AND THE SILK ROAD ENSEMBLE” focuses on a few of the ensemble’s mainstays, and their moving personal stories of passion, talent and sacrifice.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded Silkroad in 1998. Since 2000, the Silk Road Ensemble has been at the center of the organization’s work, recording six albums and performing for nearly two million people in 33 countries. THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS explores Ma’s storied life and career, and profiles some of the collective’s members, including: Kinan Azmeh, a Syrian clarinet player and composer; Wu Man, a pipa player and composer from China; Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian kamancheh player and composer; and Cristina Pato, a bagpiper, pianist and composer from Spain.
A family of people from vastly different backgrounds who explore and celebrate their commonality, the Silk Road Ensemble has evolved into an organization of musicians and artists exploring themes of cultural connectivity, history and tradition. “In the process, they model for us a way to understanding the Other,” says director Morgan Neville. “If there’s anything we should be doing today, it’s that, because so many forces in our world want us to be scared of the Other.”
Photo: Courtesy of HBO
These accomplished artists tell stories of exile due to war or political revolution, of being silenced, marginalized or jailed, of being caught between their home cultures and life in the U.S. (where their instruments may not even be recognized) and of their transformative experiences in the Silk Road Ensemble. They explain the struggles that motivate them and the creative relationships that sustain them. The documentary highlights the musicians’ connections to their homes and their efforts to extend Ma’s vision of art connecting disparate people as they learn from others and share their own experience and expertise.
THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS spotlights gatherings across the globe, and performances spanning more than a decade, both large and small, public and private. The film also includes extensive interviews with Yo-Yo Ma and his son, Nicholas, offering insights into Ma’s desire to create an ensemble that would bridge cultural divides and how that vision has come to life since its launch in Tanglewood, Mass. in 2000. Notes Ma, “We started as a group of musicians getting together and seeing what might happen when strangers meet.”
Photo: Courtesy of HBO
The viability of the group was challenged in the wake of 9/11, but the mission was more relevant than ever. It becomes clear that by forming and performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, Yo-Yo Ma has found himself. In addition, Ma says, “This is not just a story about what each of the musicians has done. It is also about the meaning behind what they do. It’s about our responsibility to one another. That’s a huge part of our story.”
The film was nominated for a 2017 Grammy Award in the category of Best Music Film; the film’s companion album, “Sing Me Home,” received the Grammy for Best World Music Album.