Last night, I went to the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's world music series, engine408, to hear works from Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, and India. The program, called "Caravan of Silk and Jade", was inspired by Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road project, named after the ancient collection of routes that linked Rome and Japan. The Project's purpose is to illuminate the contribution of these trade routes to the diffusion of art and culture.
Stephen Prutsman did an excellent job of assembling and directing a truly awesome program, featuring Iraqi oud master Rahim AlHaj, local tabla player Pavan Allalaghatta, who is also a computer scientist and mathematician, veena maven Nirmala Rajasekar, and some adventurous SPCO players (see below). I can't think of a better way of spending a Saturday night than hearing undreamt-of music in the intimate and acoustically live setting of the SPCO's 200-seat theater in the Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul.
SPCO players worthy of special mention are the following. Tamas Strasser, who took the lead in Kayhan Kalhor's "Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur", playing the kamanche part on viola. He really got into the music and did a fabulous job of putting it across. Nina-Tso-Ning Fan, who played two beautiful raga leads on violin, Vasudevachar's Palukavadamira and Thyagaraja's Mokshamu. Leslie Shank, who played some splendid violin in Jayaraman 's Mandu for veena, percussion and string quartet.