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Musicians Bring Music of Eurasia to New York

The Silk Road Project musical ensemble recently brought its unique blend of sounds to New York as part of a museum program designed to immerse visitors in the art and sounds of regions around the Himalayan mountains.

World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma founded The Silk Road Project in 1998. It is inspired by the historic traditions of cultural exchange along the ancient trade route, the Silk Road, which connected East and West.

Ma says the collaboration between the Rubin Museum, which houses an extensive collection of art from the Himalayan region, and the Silk Road Project encourages new thinking about the cultural exchanges that took place along the ancient trade route.

"I think what's exciting about working at the Rubin Museum is that you take a museum that celebrates the highest place on earth and what is the art that comes from that area and the thinking behind it," said Yo-Yo Ma. "And it makes us conjure up all kinds of ideas in sound as well as in image."

A network of trade routes, the Silk Road linked the people and traditions of Asia with those of Europe. From 500 B.C to 1500 A.D., material goods such as silk and spices were exchanged along the Silk Road as well as scientific ideas, cultural traditions, and religion.

Buddhism spread from India to China, Korea and Japan; Islam from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and Christianity to the Far East from Europe.

Ma says the goal of the Rubin Museum residency is to give visitors a multi-sensory experience.

"To try and see what are the connections between sight and sound, and imagination so that we can actually understand our world better," he said. "To say what are the different ways we can look at our world, so we ask a lot of questions and, hopefully, in the process of finding some answers, we're creating things that are fun, that are exciting, but that actually connect us to different parts of the world."

In 2004, the Rubin Museum opened its doors to visitors in New York with a display of objects, paintings and textiles from the vast and culturally diverse area surrounding the Himalayan mountains.

Program director Tim McHenry says a partnership between the Rubin and Silk Road Project is both practical and logical.

"They wanted a venue in New York City where quite a number of their musicians are based, in order to explore more deeply the art and culture of Central Asia and the Silk Road region that, of course, they embody in their music," said Tim McHenry. "So marrying music and art was a long term goal of theirs and they have been able to accomplish this at this museum."

Silk Road Project Executive Director, Laura Freid says the art exhibited at the Rubin has served as a creative influence for the musicians in the ensemble.

"The Himalayas are really the roof of the world," she said. "So much of the culture of India, China in the Silk Road can also be found in the Himalayan region and to come a museum that is totally dedicated to this one place and to be able to be inspired by the art of so many different religions that all merged along the Silk Road is very exciting for us."

Freid says the Silk Road Project has launched a variety of programs this year that seek new ways to explore old traditions.

"Our mission is really to connect the world's neighborhoods through the arts and through culture of the regions of the Silk Road," she said. "We are working a lot more this year with museums, both in the city of Chicago at the Art Institute of Chicago, at the Rubin Museum where we are speaking right now and we will be in Switzerland this summer and we are creating new multimedia projects this year with art and music that are very exciting."

The residency at the Rubin Museum showcased the musicians of the Silk Road Project in workshops and concerts that included the premiere of Nine Rivers, a new work by Chinese sheng player and composer Wu Tong.

The week-long series of events at the Rubin museum also included traditional dances and films dedicated to exploring the artistic legacy of the Himalayan region.