Silkroad Ensemble: Musical Postcards from the Freer|Sackler

The Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble gives the world premiere of a major new composition that Silkroad musicians, inspired by works of art on view in the galleries, wrote for the Freer|Sackler. Performing in this debut are Sandeep Das on tabla (Indian drums), Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi (Japanese flute), Shaw Pong Liu on violin and erhu (Chinese fiddle), Wu Tong on vocals and sheng (Chinese mouth organ), Jeffrey Beecher on bass, and Shane Shanahan on percussion.


Silkroad Ensemble

Jeffrey Beecher, bass
Sandeep Das, tabla
Shaw Pong Liu, violin and erhu
Shane Shanahan, percussion
Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi
Wu Tong, sheng and vocals

A Silkroad Gallery: Musical Postcards from the Freer|Sackler (2018)

Commissioned by the Freer|Sackler from Silkroad in honor of Julian Raby through a generous gift from Jeffrey P. Cunard

The Canteen

Composer: Kinan Azmeh
Inspired by Canteen (Iraq, ca. 1240s), F1941.10


Composer: Sandeep Das and Wu Tong
Inspired by the Cosmic Buddha (China, 6th century), F1923.15

Symphony in Grey

Composer: Haruka Fujii
Inspired by Symphony in Grey: Early Morning, Thamesby James McNeill
Whistler (painted in London, 1871), F1904.50

From the Gut

Composer: Shaw Pong Liu
Inspired by Amitabha (Japan, early 14th century), F2002.9

(Cycles) Perpetual Motion

Composer: Kojiro Umezaki
Inspired by Notched Disk (China, 2500–2000 BCE), F2017.5


Composer: Sandeep Das
Inspired by Queen Sembiyan as Goddess Uma (India, ca. 990), F1929.84


A Silkroad Gallery was premiered in concert at the Freer|Sackler on May 18, 2018. This recording of A Silkroad Gallery for this podcast was made at the museum on May 19, 2018.


The live concert performance of this work marked the culmination of Silkroad’s 2017–18 residency at the Freer|Sackler. Beginning with the joyful festivities of IlluminAsia, the museums’ reopening weekend in October 2017, we explored, experimented, created, and collaborated in and around the vivid collections housed here. Silkroad’s relationship with the Smithsonian started in the fall of 2001 with an appearance at the Freer Gallery. The ensemble’s central role in the 2002 Smithsonian Folklife Festival included a second performance at the Freer. We are thrilled to have renewed our relationship.

This concert features the world premiere of A Silkroad Gallery: Musical Postcards from the Freer|Sackler. Jeffrey Cunard, an F|S board member, commissioned this new body of work in honor of Julian Raby, the museums’ director who retired in December 2017 after fifteen years of dedicated leadership. The music explores each composer’s personal, geographic, and historical connections to objects on view throughout the galleries.

Silkroad gratefully thanks Jeffrey Cunard, Julian Raby, Thomas Wide, Richard Kurin, Grace Murray, Michael Wilpers, Andy Finch, Matthew Lasnoski, Nancy Eickel, Reid Hoffman, and their colleagues at the Freer|Sackler for all their efforts and support.



About Silkroad

Founded by cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998, Silkroad creates music that engages difference, sparking radical cultural collaboration and passion-driven learning to build a more hopeful world. The Grammy Award-winning collective of Silkroad artists represents dozens of artistic traditions and countries, from Spain and Japan to Syria and the United States. Silkroad musicians are teachers, producers, and advocates. They appear in many configurations and settings, from intimate groups of two and three in museum galleries to rousing complements of eighteen in concert halls, public squares, and amphitheaters. Off the stage, they lead professional development and musician training workshops, create residency programs in schools, museums, and communities of all sizes, and experiment with new media and genres—all in an effort to share Silkroad’s approach to radical cultural collaboration.

Jeffrey Beecher, bass, is one of Silkroad’s co-artistic directors. Principal bass with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, he is also on the faculty of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music. As a chamber musician, he has performed at Bargemusic, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Weill Recital Hall, Zankel Hall, 92Y, and Merkin Hall. Recently he composed and produced music for the television program “Travels to the Edge” with Art Wolfe. Jeffrey plays on two double basses: an Italian bass made by Giovanni Battista Rogeri in Brescia, Italy, in 1690, and a French bass made by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume in Paris in 1850.

Sandeep Das, tabla, is one of the few Indian classical musicians to have collaborated with major symphony orchestras, string quartets, and jazz musicians. He is the founder of HUM (Harmony and Universality through Music), which promotes global understanding through performance and education. Trained in the centuries-old Indian tradition of guru-shishya parampara, Sandeep studied and lived with his guru, Pandit Kishan Maharaj. Sandeep has been an artist in residence at numerous universities, including Dartmouth, Brandeis, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Clara, College of the Holy Cross, Juilliard School of Music, Berklee School of Music, and University of British Columbia.

Shaw Pong Liu, violin and erhu, engages communities through collaborations, creative music, and social justice dialogue. Code Listen, started in 2016, uses songwriting and performances to support healing and dialogue around violence, racism, and police practices in Boston. Among other endeavors are Sing Home, a song-sharing project in Boston’s Chinatown, and composing music for Conference of the Birds, a collaboration with dancers from eight countries based on the writings of Attar. Shaw Pong also performs with Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Castle of Our Skins, and her compositions have been commissioned by A Far Cry, Lorelei Ensemble, and Anikaya Dance Theatre. She was a 2017–18 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow.

Shane Shanahan, percussion, combines his studies of drumming traditions from around the world with his background in jazz, rock, and Western art music to create an innovative style. He is a co-artistic director of Silkroad and an original member of the Silkroad Ensemble. Shane has performed with Bobby McFerrin, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Philip Glass, Alison Krauss, Chaka Khan, and Deep Purple, and he appeared multiple times at the Obama White House. He frequently hosts workshops and clinics at universities and museums, and he collaborates actively with dance, theater, and yoga communities in the New York area, including several stints on Broadway.

Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi, is a Japanese-Danish performer originally from Tokyo. His work encompasses traditional and technology-based music mediated by various forms of electronics. His recent commissioned works and producer credits include those for Brooklyn Rider, Joseph Gramley, Huun Huur Tu, and Silkroad. Ko is an associate professor of music at the University of California, Irvine, where he is a faculty member of the Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology (ICIT) group.

Wu Tong, sheng and vocals, graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music (Beijing) in 1994 and has appeared as soloist with major orchestras in New York, London, Chicago, and Hong Kong. He is the founding vocalist of Lunhui (Again), the first rock band to appear on Chinese television. In 2008 he made his operatic debut in The Bonesetter’s Daughter (San Francisco Opera) and wrote the film score to Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux. A nominee for Best Crossover Album at Taiwan’s 2011 Golden Melody Awards, he was named 2012 Musician of the Year by New York’s China Institute. In 2013 he premiered Zhao Lin’s Duo, a double concerto written for him and Yo-Yo Ma.


Kinan Azmeh served as composer-in-residence with Classical Movements for the 2017–18 season. In addition to Silkroad, he has appeared at the Opera Bastille (Paris), Tchaikovsky Grand Hall (Moscow), Carnegie Hall and the United Nations (New York), Royal Albert Hall (London), Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires), and in Berlin, Salzburg, Hamburg, and Damascus, Syria. He has performed as soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony, the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the Qatar Philharmonic, and the Syrian Symphony Orchestra. Kinan serves as artistic director of the Damascus Festival Chamber Players, a pan-Arab ensemble dedicated to contemporary music from the Arab world.

Haruka Fujii has premiered compositions by Nico Muhly, Vijay Iyer, Evan Ziporyn, Joji Yuasa, and Maki Ishii. A Silkroad member since 2010, she has also collaborated with composer Tan Dun, performing his Water Percussion Concerto, Paper Percussion Concerto, and his opera Tea. She has appeared as a soloist with the Munich Philharmonic, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera, Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Nationale de Lyon, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra. Her world-premiere recordings are on the SONY, Kosei, ALM Records, and Deutsche Grammophone labels. Born in Saitama, Japan, she studied music at the Tokyo National University, Juilliard, and the Mannes College of Music.

See under “Performers” for bios of the composers Sandeep Das, Shaw Pong Liu, Kojiro Umezaki, and Wu Tong.


The work premiered at this concert, A Silkroad Gallery: Musical Postcards from the Freer|Sackler, was commissioned by the Freer|Sackler from Silkroad in honor of Julian Raby through a generous gift from Jeffrey P. Cunard.

This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording made at the Freer|Sackler on May 19, 2019, by Jody Elff (Silkroad); audio editing by Jody Elff. Web design by Ryan King, with additional web production by Torie Castiello Ketcham. Copy editing by Nancy Eickel. Photography by Hutomo Wicaksono and Neil Greentree. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performances at the Freer|Sackler.

Silkroad Staff: Jeffrey Beecher, Co-Artistic Director; Eduardo A. Braniff, Executive Director; Nicholas Cords, Co-Artistic Director; Hannah Dardashti, Silkroad Associate; Liz Keller-Tripp, Artistic Administrator; Ben Mandelkern, Director of Communications; Cristina Pato, Learning Advisor; Shane Shanahan, Co-Artistic Director and Learning Advisor; Jessica Shuttleworth, Digital Content Manager; Ed Sweeney, Comptroller; Lori Taylor, Director of Learning; Jody Elff, Sound Designer; Shari Moxley, Stage Manager

Related Images