Let’s play two: Yo-Yo Ma is scoring a double-header of premieres this week. First up, the documentary “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Then the recital disc, “Songs From the Arc of Life,” which pairs the cellist with pianist Kathryn Stott, is being released Sept. 18 by Sony Classical.
Directed by Morgan Neville, an Oscar winner for the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013), “The Music of Strangers” chronicles the Silk Road Ensemble, Ma’s international world-music collective, as it explores “the power of music to preserve tradition, shape cultural evolution and inspire hope.” The film distribution company The Orchard has picked up worldwide rights to the documentary and plans to release it in a U.S. theatrical run next spring. The cable channel HBO, which acquired the film’s U.S. domestic television rights, will program the film after its commercial run. “We need to tackle fundamental issues of what creates a good, stable, healthy economy and culture that allows people’s imagination and creativity,” said Ma, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, in a recent interview. “If you don’t have hope, you’re in trouble.”
Meanwhile, “Songs From the Arc of Life” celebrates Ma and Scott’s 30 years of friendship and collaboration in concerts and recordings. The disc features works that they have frequently performed together but never recorded, along with a few recent discoveries. “I like to think of ‘Songs from the Arc of Life’ as an invitation to our audience to remember and imagine what the soundtracks of their lives might be,” said Ma, who will perform with the CSO this season Feb. 25-27 and March 1, and will return for a chamber-music concert June 12. “Kathy and I have talked for years about recording an album of music we absolutely love, pieces that express the context of a life, of our lives. Childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, old age: What do they sound like?”
“Songs from the Arc of Life” begins and ends with two settings of the traditional Ave Maria, opening with the radiant Bach/Gounod arrangement and closing with Schubert’s more serene, contemplative version. Other tracks consist of Brahms’ Lullaby, Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me, Elgar’s Salut d’amour and Saint-Saens’ The Swan, plus works by Debussy, Delius, Faure, Gershwin, Grieg, Kriesler, Messaien, Schumann, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky.
Along with marking his fourth decade of artistic collaboration with Stott, Yo-Yo Ma is celebrating a milestone birthday this year; he turns 60 on Oct. 7. “Turning 60 has me wondering what the future might bring, but also reflecting on what has passed,” he said. “Kathy and I have known one another since we were in our 20s. We have a shared performing history and thousands of conversations and experiences, and we’re delighted, through ‘Songs from the Arc of Life,’ to share them with our fans.”
TOP: A still from the documentary “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.”