Crossing the river of forgetfulness

Cristina Pato on The Music Of Strangers, film, performance and interactive experience.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Cristina Pato: "Silk Road is a collective of musicians from all around the world."
Cristina Pato: "Silk Road is a collective of musicians from all around the world." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Cristina Pato is featured in Morgan Neville's glorious The Music Of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble, along with Kinan Azmeh, Kayhan Kalhor, Wu Man, and Yo-Yo Ma himself. I first met Cristina at a performance hosted by Richard Gere, Barbara Kopple, and Darlene Love inside New York's Lotus Club last year following the premiere of the film, when she performed with fellow musicians Kojiro Umezaki, Colin Jacobsen, Shane Shanahan, Joseph Gramley, Evan Ziporyn, Johnny Gandelsman, Sandeep Das, Abigail Washburn, Logan Coale, Nicholas Cords with Yo-Yo Ma.

The Music Of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble at Grand Central Terminal
The Music Of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble at Grand Central Terminal Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Yesterday morning, we met up again, this time inside Grand Central Terminal's Vanderbilt Hall, where a Music Of Strangers multi-sensory Interactive Experience was taking place. She and fellow Silk Road Ensemble members Wu Tong, Haruka Fujii, John Hadfield, Edward Perez, Johnny Gandelsman, Nicholas Cords,Colin Jacobsen, Shane Shanahan, and Kinan Azmeh.

The Interactive Experience which includes a virtual symphony that allows visitors to ‘perform’ compositions ends tonight, March 1 at 8:00pm.

In The Music Of Strangers the musicians become storytellers through their personal experiences that transform into a far-reaching pursuit.

"We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time." Little Gidding, from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets

Anne-Katrin Titze: We spoke briefly last year after your premiere at Lotus Club.

Cristina Pato: Oh, yeah. In June, right?

AKT: In June, yes. What I didn't get to ask you then was about the beautiful segment on the legend about the river in Galicia. It is the river of forgetfulness. When you step into it, you forget.

Bagpiper Cristina Pato with clarinetist Kinan Azmeh
Bagpiper Cristina Pato with clarinetist Kinan Azmeh Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CP: Historically speaking, the legend says that when the Romans were trying to conquer Galicia, they encountered a river. This river was the river Limia which we call in Galicia Río do Esquecimento which literally means the river of forgetfulness. Because this Roman general, Decimus Junius Brutus, thought that if they crossed to the other side of the river, they would loose their memories.

So when my mother was facing memory loss at the beginning of her disease - she has Frontotemporal Dementia - I was trying to find ways of coping with this devastating disease. And the idea that there was a river in Galicia that will make you loose your memories but there was a life at the other side of the river was my way to understand what was happening.

AKT: Does it work on a large scale as well? That what you are doing with the Silk Road Ensemble is a dam against the river of forgetfulness? By keeping the various traditions alive you are countering the forgetting.

CP: Yes and also the legend says that the general, because he wanted his soldiers to conquer Galicia - the general decided to cross to the other side of the river and then he called the soldiers, thousands of them, name by name from the other side of the river. So that to me is a key point. You know, Silk Road is a collective of musicians from all around the world.

We are independent artists too and we play many different instruments but also many different musical languages. And when we are together, what you bring with you is a mixture of that tradition but also your experience in the world. And that's what you need to actually keep memories alive. Let them grow, let them be alive and let them re-connect with other conversations.

AKT: Is it storytelling? Is music storytelling as well for you?

Vanderbilt Hall for The Music Of Strangers Interactive Experience
Vanderbilt Hall for The Music Of Strangers Interactive Experience Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

CP: I guess. The wonderful thing about being a collective is - yes, for a lot of us it is storytelling. For others it is the musical aspect of it, the power of music per se. For others it's education, arts education. I mean, this organisation has many different layers. What you see on the stage is the performing art aspect of it but there are many different things that we are trying to do in society.

For me, music is literally attached to storytelling. Because at the end, you can express emotions with music that you could not express with words only. If you put the two things together then you get a really powerful message.

AKT: When I spoke to Yo-Yo at the premiere and asked him about his favourite moment in the film, he said it was your dog [named Yo-Yo]!

CP: Ha! It's my sister's dog! I'm opening the show, so I should get ready!

AKT: I'm looking forward to your Grand Central Terminal performance!

Coming up - Kinan Azmeh on refugee camps, growing up in Damascus and the storytelling of the Silk Road Ensemble.

The Music Of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble premieres on HBO March 6, 2017 at 8:00pm in the US, and is available on DVD in the UK.

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