Things seem to be going well these days over at Symphony Center, where the CSO is reporting a balanced budget and strong ticket sales, with “more than 85 percent paid capacity sold for the second consecutive year,” according to a press release. Last December I blogged about how corporate donations allowed the resumption of CSO broadcasts on WFMT and the launch of a label called CSO Resound devoted to releasing concert performances. Last week the label issued its second release, a May 2007 recording of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E Major conducted by Bernard Haitink.

These efforts have certainly helped to bolster the orchestra’s reputation for excellence, allowing a much wider audience outside Chicago access to its work. But the CSO’s visibility was heightened even further back in July with the release of New Impossibilities (Sony Classical), the latest product of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, which ended its yearlong Chicago residency last spring. Despite a stunning cast of traditional musicians from Asia, including Kayhan Kalhor, Wu Man, and Chicago’s own Yang Wei, I felt like the music never truly embraced its origins, too often blunting the primal, elegant force of music from countries like Iran, China, and India with Western-style arrangements and orchestrations. Still, I don’t think it’s the fault of the CSO, which performs on two of the eight works.

Luckily, on November 8 the Symphony Center is hosting an astonishing, uncut program of music from that storied trade route dubbed Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia: Nomads, Mystics & Troubadours. That silly title disguises the names of the performers, who have just released three superb CD/DVD packages on Smithsonian Folkways: the great Azerbaijani mugham singer Alim Qasimov, a one-time member of the Silk Road Project, and his daughter Fargana; the Tajik dance and music troupe Badakhshan Ensemble; and a sprawling collective of 13 female singers from throughout Central Asia with the slightly embarrassing moniker Bardic Divas. The tour was organized by New York’s invaluable World Music Institute. So while I can’t say that any of the Ma-fronted recordings and performances have shaken my ground, I’m hugely grateful for the attention he’s generated for these musical cultures, and thanks to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture—which was a key sponsor of the Silk Road Project, as well as these new Smithsonian Folkways releases—the focus seems ongoing.

Today’s playlist:

Christian Weber, 3 Suits & a Violin (Hatology)
Eirik Hegdal, We Are? (Jazzaway)
Bola de Nieve, The Incomparable (Yemaya)
Fanfare Ciocarlia, Queens and Kings (Asphalt Tango)
Big Youth, Natty Universal Dread (Blood and Fire)