‘The Music of Strangers’
‘The Music of Strangers’

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‘The Music of Strangers’


From Morgan Neville, the director of Oscar-winning “Twenty Feet From Stardom,” we have yet another prize, “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.” This documentary is not just about the incredible musicianship of each of its artists, it’s about the whole purpose of music itself, as the film looks into the cultural identity struggle of each of its artists in search of the answer to a question raised by Leonard Bernstein and Charles Ives: “Whither music?” Why do we do this?

To answer this question, Yo-Yo Ma, a Chinese child prodigy on the cello, born in France and who immigrated to the United States, has been working on a music experiment since the year 2000 called, “The Music of Strangers.” Bringing together cultural icons from Spain, Iran, China, Syria and Turkey to produce seven albums, the latest, “Sing Me Home,” they have performed before 2 million people in 33 countries. Neville’s film is not just about their miracle of sound, it’s about disclosing their personal stories, how they became stars in their own country and how they broke tradition to create a new sound. As Cristina Pato, the Galician bagpipe diva, puts it, “We want to protect what we have ... our culture, our music and our language, and to keep it alive you have to let it grow.”

Kinan Azmeh, the clarinetist from Syria, smuggles instruments home to refugee camps to bring them hope: “Art is about opening yourself up to possibility. Which leads to hope.”

Kayhan Kalhor, from Iran, is a master of the kamancheh, a small, bowed instrument held on the knee. Sent to America to avoid the revolution in Iran, he has not been able to return to play his instrument. “Musicians aren’t political figures,” he states. “People don’t remember who the king was when Beethoven was composing his symphonies.” 

Pato, a rock star in the truest sense, takes the bagpipes to a whole other level; her performances will make you leap out of your seat with pain and joy together, as she throws her whole body sensually, bending the notes as though she were twisting the ear off Scottish knight William Wallace. Mel Gibson would crawl through mud to kiss her brand of freedom!

Wu Man, a featured soloist on the Pipa in the film “Kung Fu Panda,” is also a star in her own world, being one of the first to study traditional music in China’s conservatory immediately after the Cultural Revolution. “There is no East or West. It’s just a globe,” she insists. Then she breaks tradition in an American guitar shop with a riff from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”

Bringing these musicians together, Yo-Yo Ma says humbly, “Everyone is afraid to go somewhere they haven’t gone before, but you build trust enough within a group and sometimes you can turn fear into joy.” And that’s what this film does best. In the face of global turmoil, these musicians break cultural barriers to bring joy into the lives of their audiences everywhere they go.

Show times July 22-28: Friday, 5 p.m.; Saturday, 3:45 p.m.; Sunday, 2:30 p.m.; Monday, 5 p.m.; Tuesday, 2:30 p.m.; Wednesday, 5 p.m. For other films and events, please call the box office (631) 438-0083 or visit plazamac.org.