When Strangers Meet

SEP 16, 2021

Joseph Gramley on the Silkroad Ensemble’s new piece Phoenix Rising

The Silkroad Ensemble in performance, with one man singing.

As society struggles to emerge from isolation and a long and stunning upheaval, the Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble returns to the stage with a new and hopeful program: Phoenix Rising. The Ensemble, a core program of the 501(c)3 non-profit Silkroad, and its thirty-five world-class artists are working in the inclusive and collaborative way that has been the group’s hallmark for over two decades, offering these performances as both a collective grieving song and a clarion call. It is their firm belief that the musicians and their audience must unite their varied cultural experiences to create a more peaceful and just world, which we have all been striving to imagine during the past two harrowing years​.

Conceived by iconic cellist and humanitarian Yo-Yo Ma, Silkroad was created in 1998 as a reminder that rapid globalization, for all its risks and inequities, also brought extraordinary possibilities for working together. Ma recognized the Silk Road as a historical fact and a continuing symbol for the possibilities of cultural collaboration, as well as the exchange of ideas, tradition, and innovation across borders. In a groundbreaking experiment, he brought together musicians from the lands of the Silk Road to produce a new artistic idiom: a musical language founded on difference but resulting in connection. This initial gathering of artists was rooted in a simple, initial question: “what happens when strangers meet?”

And thus, Silkroad was born.

As a social-impact organization and home to a Grammy Award-winning musical ensemble, Silkroad works to inspire collaboration in innovative ways that add more equity and justice into the world through the power of the arts. Today, under the leadership of Artistic Director Rhiannon Giddens, Silkroad reaches new heights through a commitment to new music, a re-sparked mission towards cultural collaboration, and a reinvigorated focus on high-quality arts education that both reflects its mission and the times in which we live.

Grammy Award-winning musician and vocalist Rhiannon Giddens has pursued a lifelong quest to shine light on underrecognized voices, genres, and musical traditions. As a performer, composer, and cross-cultural connector, she has helped to change the understanding of both American and world music. Giddens has performed with the Silkroad Ensemble numerous times, but her appearance with them this fall at the Loeb Drama Center will be her first since succeeding Yo-Yo Ma as Artistic Director. Along with Silkroad’s artists, Giddens has shaped a program that will serve to connect the ever-evolving organization and its Ensemble with A.R.T. audiences—even in this introspective and challenging time.

Phoenix Rising takes a cross-section of Silkroad’s award-winning compositions and arrangements and re-imagines them for today. Keeping an eye on the past, Silkroad and Giddens have also collaborated on new works that coalesce her unique worldview with the Ensemble’s collective experience during the pandemic. As such, Phoenix Rising will unveil four major new commissions by an amazing amalgamation of Silkroad artists: Sandeep Das, Maeve Gilchrist, Shawn Conley, and Kaoru Watanabe. The program will also include new arrangements by Giddens, as well as Mazz Swift, Edward Pérez, and Colin Jacobsen.

Boston and Cambridge audiences—which for many years have become closely acquainted with Silkroad through its Harvard residencies and the Ensemble’s appearances at local venues—will be getting the first look at Phoenix Rising. The program is slated to tour in 2022, a year that Silkroad hopes will be remembered as a genuine global rebirth.

Rhiannon Giddens in a wax print two piece in front of a blue backdrop.

Joseph Gramley is a Grammy Award-winning multi-percussionist who has played with Silkroad Ensemble since 2000.


The Silkroad Ensemble performing at Weill Hall at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California, August 19, 2016. Photo: © Max Whittaker
Rhiannon Giddens. Photo: Ebru Yildiz

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