All SPICE News Blogs March 29, 2022

Kinan Azmeh and Yo-Yo Ma: Art in a Time of Crisis

On April 6, 2022, Silkroad will be performing at Stanford University.
Yo-Yo Ma and Kinan Azmeh
Silkroad Ensemble musicians Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Kinan Azmeh (clarinet); photo courtesy Silkroad

Yo-Yo Ma conceived Silkroad in 1998 “as a reminder that even as rapid globalization resulted in division, it brought extraordinary possibilities for working together. Seeking to understand this dynamic, he recognized the historical Silk Road as a model for cultural collaboration—for the exchange of ideas, tradition, and innovation across borders. In a groundbreaking experiment, he brought together musicians from the lands of the Silk Road to co-create a new artistic idiom: a musical language founded in difference, a metaphor for the benefits of a more connected world.”[1] The Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education has been collaborating with Silkroad since 2002.

On April 6, 2022, Silkroad will be performing at Stanford University. Silkroad Ensemble: Home Within will feature Syrian-born clarinetist and composer Kinan Azmeh and Syrian Armenian visual artist Kevork Mourad. Azmeh’s and Mourad’s bios on the Silkroad website read in part:

Hailed as a “virtuoso, intensely soulful” by The New York Times and “spellbinding” by The New Yorker. Syrian-born, Brooklyn-based genre-bending composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh has been touring the globe with great acclaim as a soloist, composer and improviser… He is a graduate of The Juilliard School, the Damascus High Institute of Music, and Damascus University’s School of Electrical Engineering. Kinan holds a doctorate in music from the City University of New York.

Kevork Mourad was born in Kamechli, Syria. Of Armenian origin, he received an MFA from the Yerevan Institute of Fine Arts and now lives and works in New York. His past and current projects include the Cirène project with members of Brooklyn Rider at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the multimedia play Lost Spring (2015) with Anaïs Alexandra Tekerian, at the MuCEM, Gilgamesh (2003) and Home Within (2013) with Kinan Azmeh in Damascus and at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, among others…

In 2016, SPICE developed a study guide to accompany Art in a Time of Crisis, a conversation between Kinan Azmeh and Yo-Yo Ma about what it means to create art in the face of crisis and violence at home. The interview and study guide are recommended for music, social studies, and language arts courses at the high school level and above. Please note that neither the interview nor study guide delves into the specifics of the Syrian uprising in March 2011 and the Syrian Civil War.

The focusing questions in the study guide are:

  • What is the meaning of “crisis”?
  • What are some examples of times of crisis?
  • What are some ways to deal with crisis?
  • What role can art play during times of crisis?
  • What can an individual do to help facilitate change?

Silkroad Ensemble Musicians Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Haruka Fujii (percussion), and Kinan Azmeh (clarinet)
Silkroad Ensemble musicians Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Haruka Fujii (percussion), and Kinan Azmeh (clarinet); photo courtesy Silkroad

I believe that comments from Kinan Azmeh and Yo-Yo Ma can inspire youth to consider the importance of these questions in their lives and the relevance of these questions to the events unfolding in the world today and to consider art as a form of soft power. I admire how they seek to empower and offer youth hope. During a segment of the interview, Yo-Yo Ma asks,
… I think [Leonard] Bernstein was once asked, ‘What do you do in the face of violence?’ I think his response was that you just continue to create even more passionately. Would you agree with that?

Kinan Azmeh replied, “Absolutely. But... the first thing on your mind is not ‘Let me create beauty.’ I think creating beauty or whatever moves people [is] the side effect of you being passionately involved in doing what you’re doing.” After students view the interview, I wonder how they might reply to Yo-Yo Ma’s question.


[1] Silkroad; [access date: March 22, 2022]

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