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'The Music of Strangers' opens in Chicago / The Chicago Tribune

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The Silk Road Ensemble is known for its daring cross-cultural experiments, bringing musicians from different traditions together to jam and see what new sounds emerge from the mix of instruments, styles and cultures. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma launched the ensemble 16 years ago when he invited musicians from countries once linked by the ancient Silk Road to come to the U.S. and, in his own words, "see what might happen when strangers meet." The short answer is, a great deal. The international collective has produced six albums and dozens of new compositions and toured the world, but Ma has even greater goals for the cross-cultural ensemble. "What we're really trying to do as a group, we want to build communicative bridges between cultures," he said.

The power of music to cross cultures and create empathy is the subject of a new documentary film, "The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble," coming to Chicago on Friday. The film is directed by Morgan Neville, whose "20 Feet from Stardom" won an Academy Award for best documentary in 2014. The film follows a handful of musicians who are mainstays of Silk Road as they grapple with eternal questions that artists have always asked: Why is art important? How do you find your voice? And what is the role of culture in this troubled world?