The Music of Strangers


Inspired by the exchange of ideas and traditions along the historical Silk Road, cellist Yo-Yo Ma established the Silk Road Project (Silkroad) in 1998 to explore how the arts can advance global understanding. Since 2000, the musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble have led Silkroad’s work to connect the world through the arts, focusing in three areas: musical performances, learning programs, and cultural entrepreneurship. Representing dozens of nationalities and musical traditions, the musicians of the Ensemble model new forms of cultural exchange through performances, workshops, and residencies.

Silkroad is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization supported by individuals, foundations, and corporations. Support Silkroad today; help connect the world through music.



YO-YO MA is a cellist whose many-faceted career is a testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras worldwide and his recital and chamber-music activities.

Ma’s discography of more than 90 albums (including 18 Grammy Award winners) reflects his wide-ranging interests. He has made several successful recordings that defy categorization, among them “Hush,” with Bobby McFerrin; “Appalachia Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey,” with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer; and two Grammy-winning tributes to the music of Brazil, “Obrigado Brazil” and “Obrigado Brazil – Live in Concert.” His recent recordings include “Mendelssohn Trios,” with Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman; “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan (which received the 2013 Grammy for Best Folk Album); “A Playlist Without Borders,” recorded with the Silk Road Ensemble, which was released in 2013; and “Songs From the Arc of Life” with Kathryn Stott. Across this full range of releases, Ma remains one of the best-selling recording artists in the classical field. All of his recent albums quickly entered the Billboard chart of classical best sellers and remained in the Top 15 for extended periods, often with as many as four titles on the list simultaneously.

In 2009 Sony Classical released a box set of more than 90 albums to commemorate Ma’s 30 years as a Sony recording artist. He has received numerous awards, among them the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the National Medal of Arts (2001) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2011). Also in 2011 Ma was recognized as a Kennedy Center Honoree. He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the invitation of President Obama on the occasion of the 56th Inaugural Ceremony.

Ma is the artistic director of Silkroad, an organization he founded to promote cross-cultural performance and collaborations at the edge where education, business and the arts come together to transform the world. More than 80 works have been commissioned specifically for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually. Ma also serves as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His work focuses on the transformative power that music can have in individuals’ lives, and attempts to increase the number and variety of opportunities that audiences have to experience music in their communities.

Ma is also widely recognized for his strong commitment to educational programs that bring the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. While touring, he takes time whenever possible to conduct master classes as well as more informal programs for students (musicians and non-musicians alike). He has also reached young audiences through appearances on “Arthur,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.”

Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents who later moved the family to New York. He began to study cello at the age of 4, attended the Juilliard School and in 1976 graduated from Harvard University. Ma recently joined the Aspen Institute Board of Trustees.

Ma and his wife have two children. He plays two instruments: a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.


WU MAN is a Grammy-nominated musician widely recognized as the world’s premier pipa virtuoso and a leading ambassador of Chinese music. Wu Man has carved out a career as a soloist, educator and composer, giving her lute-like instrument – which has a history of over 2000 years in China – a new role in both traditional and contemporary music. Through numerous concert tours, she has premiered hundreds of new works for the pipa, while spearheading multimedia projects to further the awareness of China’s ancient musical traditions.

Wu Man’s adventurous spirit and virtuosity have led to collaborations across artistic disciplines, allowing her to reach wider audiences as she works to break through cultural and musical borders. Wu Man’s efforts were recognized when she was named Musical America’s 2013 Instrumentalist of the Year, the first time this prestigious award has been bestowed on the player of a non-Western instrument.

Having been brought up in the Pudong School of pipa playing, one of the most prestigious classical styles of Imperial China, Wu Man is now recognized as an outstanding exponent of the traditional repertoire as well as a leading interpreter of contemporary pipa music written by today’s most prominent composers. She was awarded The Bunting Fellowship at Harvard University in 1998 and became the first Chinese traditional musician to receive the United States Artist Fellowship in 2008. She also has the distinction of being the first artist from China to perform at the White House.

Wu Man’s discography spans more than 40 albums, including the Grammy-nominated recordings “Our World in Song,” “Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of the Silk Road Chicago,” her recording of Tan Dun’s Pipa Concerto with Yuri Bashmet and the Moscow Soloists, and “You’ve Stolen My Heart,” featuring the Kronos Quartet.

During the 2015-16 season Wu Man has embarked on an extensive North American tour with her longtime friends and colleagues the Shanghai Quartet. The tour takes them to 12 cities across the U.S., with a final concert at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Wu Man also travels to Brussels and Geneva to collaborate with Uyghur singer Sanubar Tursun for performances presented by the Aga Khan Music Initiative, an interregional music and arts education program. Orchestral highlights of the season include a performance with the West Michigan Symphony of Zhao Jiping’s Pipa Concerto No. 2, which was written for her, as well as performances with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony (for their Chinese New Year celebrations).

Born in Hangzhou, China, Wu Man studied with Lin Shicheng, Kuang Yuzhong, Chen Zemin and Liu Dehai at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, where she was accepted into the conservatory at age 13 and became the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa. Wu Man’s audition was covered by national newspapers and she was hailed as a child prodigy, becoming a nationally recognized role model for young pipa players. She subsequently received first prize in the First National Music Performance Competition, among many other awards, and she participated in many premieres of works by a new generation of Chinese composers.

Wu Man’s first exposure to western classical music came in 1979 when she saw Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing in Beijing. In 1980 she participated in an open master class with violinist Isaac Stern and in 1985 she made her first visit to the U.S. as a member of the China Youth Arts Troupe.

Wu Man moved to the U.S. in 1990 and currently resides with her husband and son in California.


KINAN AZMEH is quickly gaining international recognition for creating an utterly distinctive sound across different musical genres. He has appeared worldwide as a soloist, composer and improviser. Notable appearances include Opéra Bastille, Paris; Tchaikovsky Grand Hall, Moscow; Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall and the U.N.’s general assembly, New York; Royal Albert Hall, London; Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires; Philharmonie, Berlin; the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; Mozarteum University, Salzburg; and Damascus Opera House (for its opening concert), in his native Syria.

Azmeh has appeared as a soloist with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the NDR Bigband, the Kyiv Camerata, The Knights orchestra, the Izmir State Opera Orchestra, the Corasara Orchestra, the Osnabrück Symphony, the Morgenland Festival Orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic, the New Juilliard Ensemble and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra. He has shared the stage with Yo-Yo Ma, Marcel Khalife, Aynur Doğan, Daniel Barenboim, Djivan Gasparyan, Zakir Hussein, François Rabbath, Simon Shaheen, Solhi al-Wadi, the Calefax Reed Quintet and members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

His compositions include several works for solo, orchestra and chamber music as well as film, live illustration and electronics. His discography includes three albums with his ensemble Hewar, several soundtracks for film and dance productions, a duo album with pianist Dinuk Wijeratne and a recent album with his New York Arabic/jazz quartet.

Azmeh serves as artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Music Ensemble, with whom he released an album of new contemporary Syrian chamber music written for the ensemble by various composers. Azmeh is also a frequent guest faculty at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music and is on the advisory board of the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra.

Born in Damascus, Azmeh was the first Arab to win the top prize at the 1997 Nikolai Rubinstein International Competition in Moscow. He is a graduate of New York’s Juilliard School (as a student of Charles Neidich) as well as the Damascus High Institute of Music (where he studied with Shukry Sahwki, Nicolay Viovanof and Anatoly Moratof) and Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering. Azmeh earned his doctorate in music from the City University of New York in 2013.


KAYHAN KALHOR is a three-time Grammy nominee and an internationally acclaimed virtuoso on the kamancheh. Through his many musical collaborations he has been instrumental in popularizing Persian music in the West and remains a creative force in today’s music scene. Kalhor’s performances of traditional Persian music and multiple collaborations have attracted audiences around the globe. He has studied the music of Iran’s many regions, in particular those of Khorason and Kordestan, and has toured the world as a soloist with various ensembles and orchestras including the New York Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de Lyon.

Kalhor is the co-founder of the renowned ensembles Dastan, Ghazal: Persian & Indian Improvisations, and Masters of Persian Music. He has composed works for Iran’s renowned vocalists Mohammad Reza Shajarian and Shahram Nazeri, performing and recording with Iran’s greatest instrumentalists. Composing music for both television and film, his work was recently featured on the soundtrack of Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, in a score on which he collaborated with Osvaldo Golijov.

In 2004 Kalhor was invited by American composer John Adams to give a solo recital at Carnegie Hall, as part of Adams’ Perspectives Series. That same year, he appeared on a double bill at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, sharing the program with the Festival Orchestra and performing the Mozart Requiem.


CRISTINA PATO is a Galician bagpiper, pianist and educator who enjoys an active professional career devoted to jazz and Galician popular and classical music. Her dual careers have led to performances on major stages throughout the U.S., Europe, India, Africa and China. Pato is a founding member of the Leadership Council for Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, collaborating closely in tours and planning residencies such as a multi-year partnership with Harvard University.

In 1999 Pato became the first female gaita (Galician bagpipe) player to release a solo album and has since collaborated on world stages with Yo-Yo Ma, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Osvaldo Golijov, the New York Philharmonic, Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.

A pop star of the gaita in her native Spain, Pato moved to New York to earn her doctorate and push her career in an entirely different direction. Pato has combined her love of the gaita with an extraordinary blend of jazz and Latin sounds. Her touring life includes a passionate commitment to education and cultural exchange.

An active recording artist and performer since age 12, Pato has released six solo gaita recordings and two as a pianist. She has also collaborated on more than 30 recordings as a guest artist, including the Grammy Award-winner “Yo-Yo Ma and Friends: Songs of Joy and Peace” (SONY BMG 2008); “Miles Español: New Sketches of Spain” (Entertainment One Music, 2011); and the Grammy-nominated Silk Road Ensemble album, “Off the Map” (World Village, 2010). Pato has performed more than 600 concerts with her own band, many of them recorded and broadcast by television stations such as RAI, BBC, TVG, CNN and RTVE.

Pato holds a Doctorate of Musical Arts in collaborative piano from Rutgers University, where she was awarded the Irene Alm Memorial Prize for excellence in scholarly research and performance. A passionate lecturer and educator, she was named Mellon Visiting Artist in Residence for the 2014-2015 season at the College of the Holy Cross. She has served as panelist and lecturer at Harvard University, UCSB, SphinxCon, Princeton University and other institutions.

Pato is also a regular collaborator with the Vail International Dance Festival, the Arts Program of the Aspen Institute and the Turnaround Arts educational program initiated by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. In 2014 her groundbreaking Gaita and Orchestra Commissioning Project was awarded a grant from New Music USA to build a repertoire for the gaita and symphony orchestra. She encouraged a round of commissions to create music that would combine her two passions: world music and classical music. Two of the concertos, Emilio Solla’s and Octavio Vázquez’s, have already premiered in 2015 with Sphinx Orchestra in Detroit, Chicago Sinfonietta in Chicago, and Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès in Barcelona.

Pato is also the founder and artistic director of Galician Connection, a multidisciplinary festival celebrated annually in Galicia. She currently resides in New York City.