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Chicago schoolchildren playing drums at Millennium Park

© TODD ROSENBERG

Passion-Driven Learning
Chicago schoolchildren participated in The Stone Horse: A Silk Road Journey, a story-concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Yo-Yo Ma and members of the Silk Road Ensemble. Students had a hands-on learning experience with different percussion instruments before having a chance to take the stage with professional musicians before an audience of more than 10,000.


Frequently Asked Questions

Below we answer some frequently asked questions about the Silk Road Project and the Silk Road Ensemble. Please look for an answer to your question here first. If the topic you are interested in is not addressed here, contact us using the method appropriate to the subject of your inquiry.

  1. What is the Silk Road?
  2. How did the Silk Road Project originate?
  3. What does the Silk Road Project do?
  4. Who are the people behind the Silk Road Project?
  5. What is the Silk Road Ensemble?
  6. What type of music does the Silk Road Ensemble perform?
  7. How is new music commissioned for the Ensemble?
  8. How have visual arts, storytelling and other disciplines been incorporated into the work of the Silk Road Project?
  9. How is the Silk Road Project involved in education?
  10. Where can I experience the work of the Silk Road Project?
  11. Are any DVDs or recordings of the Silk Road Ensemble available?
  12. Have Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble performed along the Silk Road?
  13. What are the Silk Road Project's plans for the future?
  14. How is the Silk Road Project funded?


1. What is the Silk Road?
The ancient Silk Road was a network of trading routes that crisscrossed Eurasia from the first millennium B.C.E. through the middle of the second millennium C.E., linking diverse cultures and peoples and promoting an unprecedented sharing of ideas, art, science and innovations.

The Silk Road Project takes inspiration from this historic Silk Road, viewing it in a modern context as a metaphor for multicultural and interdisciplinary communication and exploration.

2. How did the Silk Road Project originate?
The Silk Road Project was founded in 1998 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, its artistic director. Inspired by his many years of traveling as a performer and his interest in exploring music as a means of communication and a vehicle for the migration of ideas, he presented a vision for the Silk Road Project: an entity that would connect the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences around the globe.

In June 1998, Yo-Yo Ma gathered experts from a number of fields, from ethnomusicology to art history, to develop a project that would integrate artistic, cultural and educational programs. A series of workshops led by Yo-Yo Ma at the Tanglewood Music Center in 2000 resulted in the formation of the Silk Road Ensemble and served as a launch pad for the Silk Road Project, now an ongoing not-for-profit arts and educational organization.

3. What does the Silk Road Project do?
Inspired by the interchange of culture, ideas and innovations along the historic trade route, the Silk Road Project

Through these activities, the Silk Road Project connects musicians, composers, artists and audiences from Asia to Europe to the Americas and acts as a catalyst, promoting innovation and learning through the arts.

4. Who are the people behind the Silk Road Project?
Founder and Artistic Director Yo-Yo Ma is renowned worldwide for his energetic live performances and his successful recordings that have garnered more than 15 Grammy awards. His 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.

Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director Laura Freid has more than two decades of leadership experience in higher education, has written extensively on higher education in the twentieth century and consults on strategic issues facing global organizations. She has led the Silk Road Project since 2004.

Based in Boston, Massachusetts, a small staff manages the operations of the Silk Road Project.

The Silk Road Project is overseen by a Board of Directors comprised of a diverse group of leaders who share a commitment to artistic quality and cross-cultural and interdisciplinary exchange.

A Silk Road Ensemble Leadership Council provides artistic direction of the Silk Road Ensemble.

5. What is the Silk Road Ensemble?
The Silk Road Ensemble is a group of performers and composers drawn from more than 20 countries and a wide range of musical heritages. Many of the Ensemble musicians first came together at a Silk Road Project workshop in 2000 at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts, under the artistic direction of Yo-Yo Ma.

The Ensemble is not a fixed group, but rather a collective of exceptional musicians and artists—including storytellers and visual artists—who collaborate on a diverse number of projects, fostering one another’s artistic growth and presenting innovative and energetic performances that explore traditional and contemporary music.

6. What type of music does the Silk Road Ensemble perform?
The Silk Road Ensemble performs music that is rooted in the traditional cultures from along the historic Silk Road and around the world. Collaborating with one another and with commissioned composers, the Silk Road Ensemble also performs new repertoire from contemporary international musical crossroads. Rather than fitting into narrow categories of classical, fusion or world music, the Silk Road Ensemble’s music reflects the multicultural reality of our lives.

7. How is new music commissioned for the Ensemble?
Commissioning new works is central to the mission of the Silk Road Project, since new music must continually be created for the Silk Road Ensemble’s unique range of instruments.

Since its inception, the Project has incorporated more than 70 new works commissioned from artists representing countries including Armenia, Azerbaijan, China, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Korea, Lebanon, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkey, the United States and Uzbekistan.

The Silk Road Project commissions new works and new arrangements of traditional music from both established and up-and-coming composers and arrangers, as well as from performing members of the Silk Road Ensemble. Additionally, the Silk Road Project partners with organizations such as the Weill Institute of Music and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to commission new works and arrangements for a combination of Western and indigenous Silk Road instruments.

8. How have visual arts, storytelling and other disciplines been incorporated into the work of the Silk Road Project?
In addition to presenting new and traditional music, the Silk Road Project also explores the visual and narrative traditions from the countries along the historic trade route. The Silk Road Ensemble has developed several multimedia performances incorporating music, visual art, film and storytelling.

Museum residencies also integrate these aspects, bringing together visual art, oral literature and music to increase awareness of the diverse people, arts and cultures along the historic Silk Road.

9. How is the Silk Road Project involved in education?
Education is an integral part of Silk Road Project initiatives. By presenting curricular initiatives and providing educational resources, the Project strives to ignite a passion for learning through the arts.

The Project's main educational focus is Silk Road Connect, a multidisciplinary arts integration program with partner schools in New York City and Boston.

Since 2005, the Silk Road Project has been affiliated with Harvard University, where it acts as a working laboratory to explore the intersections of the arts and academics.

In partnership with the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE), the Silk Road Project developed resources such as the Along the Silk Road and The Road to Beijing curricula.

10. Where can I experience the work of the Silk Road Project?
Details about the activities of the Silk Road project, including performances, residencies and education initiatives are available on the calendar.

11. Are any DVDs or recordings of the Silk Road Ensemble available?
The Silk Road Ensemble has released five albums. While no commercial DVDs of performances are available as yet, our Silk Road Video page includes a range of video: performances, interviews and highlights of our educational work.

12. Have Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble performed along the Silk Road?
Since its inception, the Silk Road Project has presented the Silk Road Ensemble or developed projects in 30 countries, including many in the Silk Road region. Performance highlights include Carnegie Hall (New York), Suntory Hall (Tokyo), Millennium Park (Chicago), Hollywood Bowl (Los Angeles), the Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (D.C.), the Philharmonia (Baku, Azerbaijan), and festivals including the Ravinia Festival (Chicago), World Expo 2005 (Nagoya, Japan), BBC Proms (London), and the Lucerne Festival (Switzerland).

13. What are the Silk Road Project’s plans for the future?
The Silk Road Project will continue to present performances by the Silk Road Ensemble in the United States and internationally and partner with leading institutions on cultural and educational initiatives. Our calendar lists upcoming events.

14. How is the Silk Road Project funded?
The Silk Road Project, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose supporters are individuals, foundations, and corporations. You can support our work by making a donation online.