It was a very typical Toronto sort of concert event, complete with beautiful setting, exquisite music, airplanes, and condos.
We sat in the curved, broadly stepped amphitheatre of the Toronto Music Garden, surrounded by lush greenery, listening to the Orchid Ensemble playing a Chinese-modern fusion of music from different regions of the Silk Road. A perfect cultural setting. And to the right, beyond the border of high trees surrounding the Music Garden – several condo buildings lining the busy downtown street outside. To the left, the dock for several sailboats along the shores of Lake Ontario – and the Island airport, from which the sound of occasional helicopters and small planes punctuated the music.
Yet none of this detracted in the least from the experience. I’ve been to several Music Garden concerts now, and somehow the Silk Road music, the musical instruments, and the beauty of the garden blended into a natural fusion. The concert began with a perfect rendering of “Hujia,” a lament from the Han Dynasty of the third century BCE, and the huge weeping willow tree serving as a backdrop for the ensemble seemed to sway its trailing tendrils along to the haunting Chinese melody. And that mood of unity wafted over the audience and kept us riveted for the entire hour.
Some people ate supper there, having brought containers of sushi, vegetable wraps or burritos, or perhaps a small pizza picked up on the way. The audience was just as diverse: people of Asian heritage sat cross-legged beside those from the Caribbean. I reminded the man beside me (whose family obviously came from India) not to forget his cell phone on the grass. And the two Caucasian women behind me discussed whether they should some day try to visit the Calgary Stampede.
The instruments were primarily Chinese: Lan Tung’s erhu, a two-stringed fiddle with a sound box held on the lap and a long neck held upright, and the zheng, a flat, 21-stringed instrument lying on a stand in front of Haiqiong Deng, who plucked the strings with her fingers. But Jonathan Bernard played a marimba, using padded mallets, and added several drums and assorted gongs, bells, and other small percussion instruments.
The ensemble used music from their current CD, Road to Kashgar, to take us to several stops along the Silk Road. We heard a Mongolian folk song at one point, a Bengali song at another, and even an Ashkenazi song in tribute to the Jewish community that settled in central China in the tenth century.
This was a multicultural tour of that mystical ancient trade route, played by a multicultural musical ensemble in multicultural Toronto. All that would have been missing, as essential parts of Toronto, would have been the downtown condos and the sounds of the Islands. But we had those too. No wonder it all fit together with such perfection.