In 1998 cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded the Silk Road Project, whose many artistic and educational programs include the presentation of traditional and classical music from countries along the ancient Eurasian trade route that stretched from Japan to Italy. Sixteen composers have been commissioned to write works that represent, as Ma has emphasized, “meetings” rather than “fusions” of styles from these countries: in a musical fusion, a non-Western idiom often ends up subsumed in a Western one, but Ma is interested in pieces that preserve the integrity and individuality of both. Two summers ago, he invited more than 40 top-notch musicians–most from the Silk Road countries–to the Tanglewood center in Massachusetts, where they rehearsed some of these commissions and acquainted one another with their various national musics; many friendships and a great deal of artistic cross-fertilization have resulted, and the project recently released its first CD, Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet (Sony Classical). Ma is touring with a 12-piece ensemble drawn principally from that original group, and the sampler they’ll perform here–a small slice of the repertoire they’ve been building–overlaps only slightly with the music on the disc. Wednesday’s program includes commissioned pieces from a Chinese composer (Zhao Jiping, best known for scoring the films Raise the Red Lantern and Farewell My Concubine), an Azerbaijani musicologist (Franghiz Ali-Zadeh), and a Korean upstart trained in the U.S. (Jacqueline Jeeyoung Kim); rounding out the bill is Shostakovich’s Piano Trio no. 2. Nothing more need be said of Ma’s distinction as a performer, but this concert will be remarkable even for him: he’ll play not only the cello but the morin khuur, a Mongolian fiddle traditionally fitted with two horsehair strings. (All three new works, in fact, call for non-Western instruments–including the sheng, or Chinese mouth organ; a Persian lute called a tar; and a kayagum, or Korean zither.) Playing the lutelike pipa in Zhao’s piece, Moon Over Guan Mountains, is Chicago’s fleet-fingered Yang Wei; the vocalist in the Ali-Zadeh, titled Dervish, is the phenomenal Alim Qasimov. Yang and Qasimov will also present short selections of folk material, and Qasimov will demonstrate the art of mugham, a traditional Azerbaijani way of versifying. Wednesday, May 1, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J. Henry Fair.