There was a roar Thursday that even the evening’s muggy heat couldn’t dampen as cellist Yo-Yo Ma walked onto the stage as almost an afterthought following the other 16 members of his Silk Road Ensemble. And this excitement bristled throughout the 2½ hours of a musical fellowship at Wolf Trap that wove the sounds and idioms of East and West, tradition and innovation, into a compellingly upbeat program (much of which is available on their new CD, “Sing Me Home”).
There were the cheers that greeted splendid clarinetist Kinan Azmeh’s wildly celebratory “Wedding,” an evocation of a party in a small Syrian village, in fact, that erupted at even the mention of Syrian musicians. There were giggles of laughter as Cristina Pato, wielding her gaita (a Galician bagpipe), and Wu Tong with his suona (a sort of Chinese oboe), tried to outdo each other in competitive virtuosity, and when Wu Man performed miracles of dexterous athleticism on her amplified pipa (a Chinese lute). And there were gasps of appreciation as a percussion section rooted in the Indian, Arabic, African and Asian worlds collaborated in almost irresistible complexity.
This is an ensemble of performers who are also the composers and arrangers of the music they perform, musicians who are committed to Ma’s vision of music as a bridge between cultures. But, as may be inevitable after 18 years, even an innovative group such as this hasn’t entirely escaped being sucked into cliches: the urge to begin with a small group of instruments and gradually draw everyone else into a dense soup of sound, and, far too often, relying on wild raucous endings as crowd-pleasers when subtler excellence might have been more satisfying.