Silkroad Ensemble weaves musical magic


Silkroad Ensemble.

Silkroad Ensemble.Credit:Max Whittaker

Hamer Hall, October 15

The Silkroad Ensemble made their Australian debut at Melbourne Festival last week for the dance-opera Layla and Majnun. And this week, the abundant gifts of these 10 musicians were drawn into even sharper focus in a stand-alone concert that referenced a wide array of cultures and traditions.

Inspired by the ancient trading routes that once criss-crossed Asia, Africa and southern Europe, the ensemble specialises in combining instruments and musical motifs in unique and utterly beguiling ways. Monday’s opening medley included a traditional Vietnamese tune played on Western string instruments, a bold fanfare for suona (a Chinese reed instrument), and a striking version of Chick Corea’s Spain led by Kojiro Umezaki’s shakuhachi (Japanese flute).

Umezaki also presented a delicate trio piece with Wu Man on pipa (Chinese lute) and Wu Tong on sheng (mouth organ), the two wind players drifting over the pipa’s shimmering melody like birds gliding on thermals.

Violinist Johnny Gandelsman shone on the ravishing Beloved, do not let me be discouraged (which also featured Tong’s unearthly vocals) and offered a rousing, improvised solo on the Balkan-flavoured Turceasca.

Disappointingly, the concert program was cut 20 minutes short without explanation, and the performers exited the stage without returning for an encore. After such a spellbinding journey, it was a shame the spell was broken so abruptly – as though, having enjoyed a sumptuous meal, we’d had dessert snatched half-eaten from our plates and been promptly ushered out the door.

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