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Cincinnati Enquirer
20-01-06, 10:27
Since when we Uyghurs have a member with a last name of "Wang"?

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ancient music thrives on 'Silk Road'
Cello meets its Chinese ancestor in concert

Janelle Gelfand | Enquirer staff writer


Think of it as the first global exchange: The Silk Road was a vast ancient trade route linking the cultures of Asia with those of Europe for 2,000 years.

Inspired by the Silk Road, Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 2000 assembled a group of composers and musicians to recreate the exotic music along the trade route for his "Silk Road Project."

"That was my first time meeting musicians from China, Japan, Korea, Uzbekistan, Iran, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, says Edward Arron, 29, who lived in Finneytown until age 10 and toured with Ma's "Silk Road Project." "We were making music with people with whom we shared not a word in common. We really learned how to communicate in a way we've never done before, through listening."

On Sunday, Arron, who plays the cello, will perform with erhu player Xu Ke and pianist Wang Li in "Music Along the Silk Road" for the Greater Cincinnati Chinese Music Society in Corbett Auditorium.

The style of playing by musicians along the Silk Road comes from centuries-old traditions passed down from generation to generation.

"Their sense of rhythm is so natural, and their sense of playing is so vocal, because it's in their blood," Arron says. "What is amazing is they were able to communicate that to us. We were forced not to read rhythms and notes off a page, but to listen to them and get that into our playing."

The result is spontaneous and improvisatory. Arron and Xu Ke, a virtuoso of the erhu (pronounced AR-hoo), a two-stringed Chinese instrument, became instant friends. At first, they could only communicate through the language of music.

could only communicate through the language of music.

"It was clear that each of our playing spoke to the other," says Arron. "To be able to imitate him, to hear him play, is the closest thing to the source of traditional Chinese music."

The erhu is, in a way, the ancestor of the cello, because the Silk Road eventually led to Italy, where violins and cellos were born. The erhu's bow is attached and slides between the instrument's two strings. Pitch is created by sliding a finger along a string - without the benefit of a fingerboard or frets.

"Listening to Xu Ke play the erhu brings me back to the vocal, sort of human

element of music," Arron says. "We've discovered the erhu has more of a female (higher) voice and the cello has a more male voice in our duos, and that makes it a magical combination."

Traditional Chinese music includes personal elements - celebration, singing or lamenting - as well as representations of nature. The program includes "Atoshi Suite" by Wang Yanqiao (father of the pianist Wang Li) that includes a wedding dance and a peasant incantation on a mountainside. The Wang family is from the ethnic people called Uygur (also spelled Uighur) of China's Xinjiang province.

"You'll hear a vastness created, suggesting a morning on a mountainside," Arron says.

For Chinese people, hearing the erhu brings back memories of home, says CCM faculty member Chen Lin, who will conduct the CCM Philharmonia Orchestra.

"For Chinese people, you listen to the melody and you can feel a lot of things," she says.

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com

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