Typical of Yo Yo Ma: he hides behind the scenes. A prime mover of musical happenings, this world famous, prodigy cellist recedes into the backdrop, even when the event is about him, as in Morgan Neville's new documentary, The Music of Strangers. You expect an interview with the maestro about his life and work, some talking heads, and what you get is that, including an archival appearance on "Mister Rogers," and so much more: the story of the international musicians he works with on a global scene, often natives of war-torn countries, Afghanistan, Syria, and contemporary post-revolution Iran, so the film limns the political landscape of our time, and some unusual instruments, such as Kayhan Kalhor's kamancheh, making beautiful Persian music that transcends a tragic personal story.
At the screening, Yo Yo Ma greeted guests with hugs and exuberance. A haiku scribe, Lisa Markuson sent a three-liner from the Bowery Poetry Club,
wouldn't i be strings
if i could reverberate
shot like your arrow
More hugs from Yo Yo Ma.
Darlene Love, a central figure in Morgan Neville's Oscar winning Twenty Feet from Stardom, was a host of the special screening of The Music of Strangers, followed by a performance at the Lotos Club. Love's iconic American rock and roll seemed worlds away from Yo Yo Ma's Silk Road ensemble's native blends from across the globe. One featured performer from Galicia, Spain, Cristina Pato, for example, plays the bagpipes in the film. At the Lotos Club, accompanied by percussions, and Yo Yo Ma's cello, she played the pipe, for an audience that included Peter Cincotti, Gaby Hoffman, Oren Moverman, and Gay Talese Pato explained to me that in her country, the bagpipes are plentiful, but not often played by women. Darlene Love told me, even if she cannot participate in the music, "I can join in here," and gestured toward her heart.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.