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  • Yo-Yo Ma leading the Silk Road Ensemble at rehearsals at the Schloss Salzau in Germany.
World Premiere of Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road Ensemble introduces Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia

Wotersen, Germany, 25 August 2001 - At the first of a hallmark series of festivals to be held in Asia, Europe and North America, the renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma led a distinguished international group of musicians, artists and scholars from the Silk Road Project last night in introducing European audiences to a major element of the Aga Khan Music Initiative in Central Asia, a multi-year project to foster the revitalisation of traditional music in Central Asia.

Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble are performing specially commissioned pieces, traditional works from Silk Road countries and Western music influenced by Eastern traditions. Featuring compositions from Azerbaijan, Iran, Japan, China, Mongolia and Uzbekistan, the Concert programme includes performances of traditional instruments as varied as the morin khuur, a Mongolian two-stringed fiddle and the sheng, a 3,000 year-old traditional wind instrument from China.

Explaining the purpose of the Music Initiative, Prince Amyn Aga Khan, brother of His Highness the Aga Khan and a Director of the Silk Road Project, said "we want to revive, sustain the new, and make accessible to the wider world the many and varied forms of traditional musical expression to be found along the old Silk Routes." "Our hope," he continued, "is that the performances of Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, and especially of the pieces specially composed for the Silk Road Project--which are, of course, contemporary but steeped in local tradition - will give audiences here in Europe, and elsewhere, a first true glimpse of the diversity of these traditions, but also of their commonality. These compositions also highlight (as was the case centuries ago) the value today of exchanges among and between peoples and cultures."

"When strangers meet" and "an exploration of the inner life" were among the characterisations that Yo-Yo Ma used to describe the vastness of the Silk Road Project, which he sees as an attempt "to bring new ideas, talent and energy into the world of classical music, and at the same time, nurture musical creativity drawing on wonderfully diverse and distinguished sources of cultural heritage around the world."

With its Music Initiative in Central Asia, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the lead funder and creative partner of the Silk Road Project, seeks to preserve and revive the traditional music of Central Asia and enhance its role by providing financial resources, technical assistance and organizational support directly to individuals and organizations in the region. Presenting, teaching, documenting and archiving traditional arts, preparing educational materials on music and poetry, supporting publications, recordings, broadcast and televised transmission - all of these aspects are part of the Music Initiative's aim of creating a unique repository of musical knowledge and performance. Among its beneficiaries will be the newly established University of Central Asia, which was created by an international treaty signed among the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic and the Aga Khan.

In partnership with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the Silk Road Project will expand its public programming and outreach initiatives to the core lands of the Silk Road - the region of Central Asia. A series of concerts and festivals in several nations will feature Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble together with outstanding local performers of both Western and Eastern music. An inaugural concert tour will start in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan in October 2001, with longer tours to follow in 2003 and thereafter. Within the ambit of the Aga Khan Music Initiative for Central Asia, a key component of the tours will be workshops and master classes that will permit unique interaction between musicians and students in these countries and the composers, musicians and scholars who form part of the Silk Road Project.

Concerts and festivals are also planned for several cities in Europe and North America during 2002. The Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Silk Road Project will work together with the Smithsonian Institution (the national museum of the United States) to prepare the culmination of the current series of concerts at the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival in 2002, which will be entirely devoted to the theme of the Silk Road.

For more information, see Music Initiative pages.


The Silk Road Project aims to illuminate the Silk Road's historical contribution to the cross-cultural diffusion of arts, technologies, and musical traditions, identify the voices that best represent its cultural legacy today, and support innovative collaborations among outstanding artists from the lands of the Silk Road and the West.

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, established in 1988 in Geneva, Switzerland, is a private, non-denominational, philanthropic foundation that focuses on cultural revitalisation as a means to promote physical, social and economic well being in countries where Muslims have a significant presence. In addition to the programmes noted above, the Trust administers: the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the world's largest architectural prize; the Historic Cities Support Programme concerned with the conservation and re-use of buildings and spaces in historic cities through projects in Bosnia, Egypt, Pakistan, Spain, Syria, Uzbekistan and Zanzibar; support for the Aga Khan Programme in Islamic Architecture at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); in collaboration with MIT, ArchNet, an interactive global Internet-based network that links architects, planners and universities around the world.

The Trust is part of the Aga Khan Development Network, a family of institutions created by His Highness the Aga Khan, 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismaili Muslims. The Network brings together agencies and institutions working to improve living conditions and opportunities in specific regions of the developing world, especially in Asia and Africa. Since 1993, the Network has launched a number of successful initiatives in Central Asia in areas ranging from agrarian reform to education, infrastructure, healthcare, micro-credit, small enterprise development and cultural revitalisation.

For further information, please contact:

Aga Khan Trust for Culture
1-3 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 2,
Tel: (41.22) 909.7200
Fax: (41.22) 909.7292