Allgemein Bühnengeflüster Interviews

Music as a cultural bridge: The Silk Road Cultural Belt

Some thoughts on the Silk Road Cultural Belt, a great global initiative which was founded by the German conductor Jan Moritz Onken to bring together lovers of classical music from all over the world…

“…Rise up and play
Those liquid notes that steal men’s hearts away” 

These lines were written in the 12th century by the poet Farid ud-Din Attar in his literary masterpiece of Persian literature, The Conference of Birds. Attar was born in Neishapour in north-east Iran and he is likely to have enjoyed most of his childhood education at a theological school. Later, he travelled through a lot of countries in Asia and Africa such as Egypt, Damascus, Mecca, Turkistan (southern Russia) and India.

The Conference of the Birds is a tale about the search for an idea, for a spiritual king – although Attar clearly wasn’t an admirer of most earthly rulers. The Conference of Birds is about sufism, a mystical trend in the Islamic religion which is characterized by special ritual practices and doctrines. In the poem, Farid ud-Din Attar describes the consequences of the conference of the birds for the world when they begin the search for their ideal king, the Simorgh bird. When the birds get to know that they have to undertake an arduous journey to find him, they soon express their reservations to their leader, the hoopoe. With eloquence and insight, however, the hoopoe calms their fears and provides guidance in the search for spiritual truth.

The celebrated US-American children’s book author and illustrator Peter Sís creatd his first book for adults, a beautiful and uplifting adaptation of the Conference of Birds, in 2011; © Peter Sis

More than 800 years after The Conference of Birds was written, the idea to found the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra appeared at the 5th BMW Foundation Global Table in Tanzania in 2015. Jan Moritz Onken, a German conductor, also presented his vision of a so-called Silk Road Cultural Belt shortly afterwards at the 1st Global Forum of the BMW Foundation in Berlin. The idea behind his vision: Connecting people who have a passion for classical music by constructing a worldwide digital silk road. This means that each and every person shares a piece of music which is important to him or her online on www.silkroadculturalbelt.com – as a link, a video or a mp3 file.

Historically, the ancient Silk Road dates back to 300 BC and was an ancient trade route linking China with the West by carrying goods and ideas between the West and the East. Silk went westward, wool, gold and silver to the Eastern part of the world. Besides the long-distance political and economic relations that developed between the people from both parts of the world, the Silk Road gave them the great opportunity to exchange ideas, philosophies and various technologies. Jan Moritz Onken’s Silk Road Cultural Belt follows in the footsteps of this humanistic concept of the Silk Road and is sort of think-tank on augmented humanity which invites people all over the world to be part of a large community of people who love classical music.

On the website of the Silk Road Cultural Belt, Fatima from Doha in Qatar for example writes about „Fjiri“, a piece of music composed by Dana Al Fardan and performed by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra: „I love how beautifully it combines western influences with traditional Arabic music“. 

And Rafael from Nairobi in Kenya says about Claude Debussy’s composition Voiles for solo piano from 1909: „This is a piece of silk because it shows how music travels & how it moves even where there is almost no wind“. 

For Onken, classical music is the perfect bridge builder across nations, because it is full of life, full of meaning, full of questions. The digital Silk Road Cultural Belt already counts more than 2.000 visitors a day – a wonderful success for the German conductor and his orchestra.

Jan Moritz Onken, @Claudia Leisinger

Jan Moritz Onken is also open for collaborations with artists from other cultural spheres in the future such as the German-Slovenian multimedia artist Annina Roescheisen, who developed a project similar to the Conference of Birds called #Whatbringspeace. Other visual artists have already became a part of the Silk Road Cultural Belt community such as Flavio de Marco who painted a series of paintings based on Ligetis „6 Bagatelles“, on Mozart’s Clarinet Quintett and Debussy’s „Syrinx“ – or Dasha Fursey who dedicated a wonderful painting inspired by the Conference of the Birds.

And here is my personal „piece of silk“: 

This is a piece of silk, because funeral music has neither sounded more positive and optimistic for me before I heard Matthias Well (violin), his sister Maria Well (cello) and Zdravko Živković (accordion) playing.

More information on Jan Moritz Onken, the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra and the Silk Road Cultural Belt: 




Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/silkroadsymphony/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silkroadsymphonyorchestra/




Support the Silk Road Symphony Orchestra: The Callias Foundation coordinates and develops intercultural innovation with a world-wide audience along the new and old Silk Road and enabled a first musical step on this path on the 11th of June 2016 in Berlin.


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