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  • The Silk Road Ensemble performing during the Aga Khan Award for Architecture ceremony in Aleppo, Syria, on 6 November 2001.
    AKDN / Gary Otte
Yo-Yo Ma performs on the Silk Road for Aga Khan Award

Aleppo, Syria, 6 November 2001 — World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble gave a special performance on the occasion of the presentation ceremony of the 2001 Aga Khan Award for Architecture. From high atop the Citadel dominating one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities and out of its ornate Throne Room, the enchanting melodies of Ahmed Adnan Saygun, Johann Sebastian Bach, Maurice Ravel, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh and Kayhan Kalhor this evening recreated an age-old memory of the interaction of cultures for which the Silk Road is remembered.

Exceptional in its setting and its significance, the performance, in the presence of His Highness the Aga Khan and some 500 distinguished international guests, brought together performers from five countries in a striking fusion of musical traditions. Symbolic of the fruitful exchange of ideas and traditions that the Silk Road enabled, tonight’s performance struck more than one chord in the minds of those witnessing an event that itself celebrates the sharing of skills and talent from around the world and a revived conversation amongst cultures.

Noting the collaboration between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the Silk Road Project, the Aga Khan said that it was important to broaden “the understanding and appreciation of the musical and artistic cultures of the Silk Road that linked the West with Asia and the Middle East, including Syria, for over a thousand years.” The Aga Khan also remarked that “this work owes a great deal to Yo-Yo Ma’s vision, creativity, boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm, and most of all to his genuine interest and respect for the creative expression of peoples embodied in the rich diversity of their cultures.”

Yo-Yo Ma, describing the experience of playing in Aleppo, said, “I know that I speak for all the Silk Road Ensemble members who were in Aleppo with us when I say that being part of the presentation ceremony for the 2001 Aga Khan Award for Architecture was a high moment of inspiration in our musical lives. The selection of the projects that were honoured demonstrated an enlightened understanding of the importance of renewing rooted traditions. In all its work, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture demonstrates the understanding that, in the end, it’s not about your culture or my culture, but about our common world heritage.”

Each piece performed reflected musical and cross-cultural innovation. Yo-Yo Ma performed two solos on the cello. Bach’s Sarabande from the Suite No. 2 in D Minor is an example of the composer’s liberal experimentation with unconventional musical forms and sonorities. Translated as the Arabic word for “noise,” the sarabande was a dance of Moorish origin that came to Europe during the 12th Century when the Moors invaded Spain. Saygun’s Partita for Solo Cello reminded the listener how much he drew on his travels across Anatolia, his studies in Western composition at the Paris Conservatory and his exposure to a mélange of Turkish art song, folk song, dance and gypsy music.

The performance of Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello recalled the composer’s exploration of the sound worlds of the East and his penchant for experimenting with new melodic material. Franghiz Ali-Zadeh’s A·k Havasi, translated both as "breeze of love" and as "dance melody of love," was inspired by the sixteenth-century Azerbaijani poet Muhammed Fizuli's poem "Leila and Majnun.” It transforms the cello into the voices of the lovers, using as her musical language the quasi-improvisatory traditional classical style and repertory of Azerbaijan known as mugham. Finally, Kayhan Kalhor’s composition, “Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur”, draws inspiration from traditional Iranian modal melodies, which he supports with an ensemble of Western strings. Featured instruments include the kemancheh (spike fiddle), santur (struck zither), and ney (bamboo flute).

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.

Through the Aga Khan 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 teaching, documenting and archiving traditional arts, preparing educational materials on music and poetry and enabling the creation of a unique repository of musical knowledge and performance.

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