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Silk Road Ensemble plays Cal Performances - Greek Theatre / San Francisco Classical Voice

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At a Silk Road Ensemble performance, it's easy to zero in on a single moment and think you'll never hear such a beautiful sound again. Then, after you've been captivated by Kinan Azmeh's embroidered clarinet playing and Jeffrey Beecher's thick jungle of bass tones, it happens again: A single "thwap" from Wu Man's pipa strikes a touchpoint and causes you to feel connected, like kin, regardless of your ethnicity. Minutes later, as Cristina Pato sets aside her Galician bagpipes (gaita) to wander into melody on the piano, a startling thought disrupts: That fellow with the cello weaving his way in and out of Pato's sensitive playing is the renowned Yo-Yo Ma, founder of the ensemble-and you've noticed him as merely equal to the rest. But it's a passing thought because he's playing along as if he's just a guy in a band: A star amid other stars is simply one point in a galaxy.

Such were the mini pinnacles on Thursday, August 18, which added up to a mountain range of world music at Berkeley's Hearst Greek Theatre. A cool but not cold breeze caused tree branches to sway and people wrapped themselves in blankets at the outdoor venue, but the 15 musicians performing on Eastern and Western instruments were hot. Especially in the first half of the program, the colors and textures of individual instruments-and the artists who played them-expressed their subtle and grand capabilities. The second act presented three works too similar in structure-solos that turned the same corner to wind up in splashy, whole-ensemble frenzies. But that seems like a minor objection.
Yo-Yo Ma with the Silk Road Ensemble in Berkeley | Credit: Eli Zaturanski

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