Tales from a Thousand and One Nights - this is what many people think of when they hear the term “Silk Road.” However, the Silk Road was less about fairy tales than about business: people transported spices, gold, jade, china, and, of course, silk along the most famous trade route of the Middle Ages.
China is currently working to revive it, building infrastructure from Central Asia all the way to Europe, and along the maritime route even to Africa. “One Belt, One Road” is a mega-project that could shift geopolitical power relations.
BMW Foundation Global Table, Tanzania
The idea for the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra was born at the BMW Foundation Global Table in Tanzania in 2015. With the support of other participants, conductor Jan Moritz Onken wanted to musically redefine the predominantly economic concept of the Silk Road and thus promote the intercultural exchange among continents.
The Silk Road Symphony Orchestra, too, injects new energy into the term “Silk Road.” It aims to change the way we perceive classical music: Since 2016, it has made music travel. The initiative connects people all over the world, across cultural boundaries.
This is how it works: Music lovers from countries along the former Silk Road upload their favorite classical music piece on an internet platform.
These sources then inspire the work of the orchestra, with some 60 musicians from over 20 nations bringing the intercultural Silk Road to acoustic life.
Let’s hear from some of the musicians:
Music is a treasure of mankind. And we have to make this treasure available to all people — not just an elite that is interested in classical music.
Playing in front of an audience is like being naked. We show what’s inside us — through the music. This is not so easy; we are all just human beings.
I love the energy. The orchestra brings together many different nations. If you get along well musically, then everything else goes well, too.
The internet provides people all over the world with a wonderful opportunity to participate in our music. I like that. For classical music especially is very elitist, and the market for us is small.
The orchestra is a cool thing. I especially like the fact that it brings together so many musicians from different cultures. The concept is totally awesome: We share the music with the whole world — with people in New York or New Delhi.
How you connect with the audience through the internet is still a mystery to me. With symphonic music, you need the direct contact. At least, that’s my feeling as a live musician. But I’ll be happy to wait and see.
Cultural Exchange along the Silk Road
The musicians come from all over the world—from New York, Jakarta, Cape Town, Tehran, Berlin, and other places. To celebrate the conclusion of its first Summer Residency in Paretz, Brandenburg, the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra performed a program of compositions by Prokoviev, Pärt, and Beethoven.
We can learn a lot about each other, not only musically, but also about each other’s countries and cultures. During breakfast, for example, a musician from Russia told another from Colombia what he eats for breakfast at home. These small conversations make a big difference when it comes to the perception of other cultures.
The name of the orchestra stands for internationality and big ideas. My hope was that we musicians would have a lot of freedom and be able to discuss the program. And that’s exactly how it is!