Stories » Morgan Neville talks Yo-Yo Ma & Silk Road with 'The Pitch'

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Morgan Neville talks Yo-Yo Ma & Silk Road with 'The Pitch'

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Since he was child, French-born cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been revered for the way he brings classical compositions to life. But a lifetime playing the works of long-dead Western composers night after night can make even the most dedicated genius feel mired in routine rather than blessed by a calling.

In part to remedy this professional hazard, Ma - with a rotating group of international musicians, working as the Silk Road Ensemble - has since 2000 recorded and performed challenging music outside the canon, using both familiar instruments and idiosyncratic tools. His cello has harmonized with Iranian Kayhan Kalhor's kamancheh (strings of a different kind), Cristina Pato's gaita (a Spanish bagpipe), Wu Man's Chinese lute or pipa, and Syrian Kinan Azmeh's clarinet. 

The Music of Strangers documents the group as it finds balance among seemingly incompatible instruments and cultures - an effort that hasn't come without struggle. Kalhor and Azmeh are living in exile, while Wu grew up in the shadow of the Cultural Revolution. Its director, Morgan Neville, has made a name for himself with documentaries about Brian Wilson and Keith Richards, as well as 20 Feet From Stardom, a moving visit with a storied clique of backup singers. That film gave its subjects long-overdue attention - and won Neville an Oscar.