Thursday, June 23, 2016

A bridge built by music

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble is my kind of feel-good movie. The notion that iconic cellist Yo-Yo Ma could assemble a group of musicians from many cultures and arrive at a coherent musical expression is encouraging and also a bit naive, particularly when carried to metaphoric levels about possibilities for cooperation beyond the concert hall. But if one is going to submit to fantasy, better this than one in which aliens invade the world and must be repelled with massive applications of force. Director Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) fills his documentary with plenty of music, but also provides insight into Yo-Yo Ma, who claims that as a child he simply fell into music. Neville also introduces us to the musicians that form the Silk Road Ensemble. Among them: Kayan Kalhor, an Iranian who plays kamancheh and who discusses the hardships he's faced. Wu Tan, who plays the pipa or Chinese lute, briefly occupies center stage, as does Cristina Pato, a bagpipe player from Galicia, Spain, who's known as the Jimi Hendrix of bagpipes. (Yes, it's an apt comparison.) As you might imagine, Silk Road's fusion-heavy music tends toward the melodic or the rhythmically infectious. OK, so maybe music won't change the world, but it certainly can change the hour and a half it takes to watch The Music of Strangers, a rare documentary that isn't driven by conflict, but by Yo-Yo Ma's hopeful vision of the ways in which conflict might be resolved.

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