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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 16:20 GMT
Yo-Yo Ma: Music with a mission
Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma: Committed to Silk Road Project
By BBC News Online's Andrew Webster

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his considerable energy, talent and charm to London's Barbican on Wednesday.

Performing with the Orchestre National de Lyon he introduced a full house to his Silk Road Project in the shape of the UK premiere of The Six Realms by New York-born Peter Lieberson.

Yo-Yo Ma, born to Chinese parents in 1950s Paris, founded the project in 1998 to "study the ebb and flow of ideas among different cultures along the Silk Road... to plant the seeds of new artistic and cultural growth and to celebrate living traditions and musical voices throughout the world".

To that end he has collaborated with composers and musicians from Iran through Central Asia, Mongolia and China.

Peter Lieberson's contribution springs from his study of Buddhism - the Six Realms refers to a description of various states of mind or emotions which, according to Buddhist teaching, form the basic, shared human experience.


The piece is performed in six, more or less seamless movements. Yo-Yo Ma is of course central, but he was on occasion overshadowed by the large array of quite theatrical percussive elements, particularly during the second movement The Hell Realm.

The somewhat syncopated interpretation of The Hell Realm undid much good work in the opening, The Sorrow of the World, where Yo-Yo Ma impressed with his enthusiasm for the discordant, unsettling lament.

His style can appear casual, lighthearted, even flippant. But here he was intent and deliberate, bow spearing at awkward angles as his body opened and closed around his instrument.

At no point did his commitment diminish but one sensed he gave the composition more respect than it deserved.

The Six Realms failed in the end to live up to the Silk Road Project manifesto - it did not sow seeds of inspiration.

Japanese tour

After the interval, Yo-Yo Ma returned to perform Haydn's C major Cello Concerto. Most of the audience were plainly at the Barbican to witness this - a real test, of which Yo-Yo Ma hugely enjoyed demonstrating he was the master.

There is no denying Yo-Yo Ma's commitment to the Silk Road Project - on 1 December he begins a gruelling five-day Japanese tour with his Silk Road Ensemble.

There he will perform three more original commissions to audiences in Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka.

The project is intriguing but an analogy one might draw from Wednesday's programme was of a grand master, passionate to demonstrate to the world the magic of draughts, but willing to play exhibition chess to draw a crowd.

For the Barbican audience, the exhibition of Haydn exceeded the attraction of Lieberson.

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