Silk Road Ensemble Returns

HBS, performance
Jane Seo

The Silk Road Ensemble, directed by Yo-Yo Ma '76, perform at Spangler Center at the Harvard Business School on Monday. The Silk Road Ensemble is a collective of internationally renowned performers and composers from more than 20 countries.

When Sandeep Das first left his home country, India, in 1991 to perform with steel drum bands in Trinidad, he said he had never even heard of the name “Yo-Yo Ma.”

“That’s how sheltered I was,” he said.

Now, as a tabla player for the Silk Road Ensemble, Das has not only come to know its director, the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma '76, but has also expanded his world view.

“I came from India, but now I belong to the world,” he said.

And just before noon on Monday, the Silk Road Ensemble presented a 15-minute “flash” performance at the Harvard Business School’s Spangler Center.

The Silk Road Ensemble—a collective of musicians from nearly 20 countries around the world—is in residence at Harvard from Sept. 22 to Sept. 28. The ensemble is a part of the Silk Road Project, a non-profit founded by Ma in 1998. The organization promotes collaboration, innovation, and learning through the arts with a vision of connecting the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe.

“Whenever we have a chance to bring together these artists from their many home countries, we use our time to the fullest, and this week will be no exception,” said Laura Freid, chief executive officer and executive director of the Silk Road Project.

In addition to presenting free performances, the project engages in cross-cultural exchanges and residencies, leads workshops for students, and partners with prominent cultural institutions to create educational programs and materials.

Although Communications Manager Heidi Koelz said the flash performance was “kept on the down-low,” the Spangler Center was filled with an excited audience of about a hundred people snapping pictures of the group and nodding their heads to the music.

Reflecting the diversity of the artists, the ensemble featured international instruments such as the tabla, a percussion from India, and the shakuhachi, a Japanese end-blown flute, as well as cellos and a viola.

The artists put on an enthusiastic performance, humming and whistling to the tunes, shaking the tambourines, and inviting a young audience member on stage to join in on the musical festivity.

“This is not a performance, but a conversation,” cellist Mike Block said. “We want to use art as a medium to improve people’s cultural life.”

According to Ma, the ensemble decided to perform at the Business School to explore possibilities for business and the arts to intersect in the emerging field of cultural entrepreneurship.

“Sounds are the tip of the iceberg. We want to explore what’s behind the iceberg,” Ma said. He added that there are three engines—political, economic, and cultural—that drive what he called the fulfillment of the world. He said the organization hopes to pursue the cultural engine to respond to the needs of society and to create value and meaning in peoples’ lives.

“Value is surely measurable in terms of sound, but it’s all the other conversations that happen in between that matter the most,” Ma said. “Music making is character development.”

—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at


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