At its core, “Strangers” is a profile of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a symbol of “world music” before the term was even coined. We see a clip of a young Ma introduced on a television special by conductor Leonard Bernstein as a Chinese musician playing French music for American audiences.
The camera pulls away to reveal that the audience that day included President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
A clear prodigy, Ma admits he never felt a clear passion for Western classical music.
He was simply a great player at a very early age.
He spent much of his youth and middle age searching for his musical voice, a search that brought him to create the Silk Road Ensemble in 1998.
The rotating group of musicians blends new music out of instruments familiar and obscure. “Strangers” puts the spotlight on the stories of Kinan Azmeh, a Syrian clarinet player and composer; Wu Man, a pipa player and composer from China; Kayhan Kalhor, an Iranian kamancheh player and composer; and Cristina Pato, a bagpiper, pianist and composer from Spain.
Each tells stories filled with tragic history. Wu Man championed a form of traditional Chinese music all but stamped out by the Cultural Revolution.
Kalhor was driven from his home after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, despite the fact that he was striving to keep traditional Persian music alive.
Azmeh has watched his beloved Syria reduced to rubble.
All the musicians involved in “Strangers” have been criticized for abandoning their traditions to create an artificial hybrid music for trendy audiences.
Yet each of these musicians has used the ensemble to champion and preserve ancient sounds.
At a time when societies around the world are wrestling with nationalist movements that see global cooperation as a threat to their culture and heritage, “The Music of Strangers” could not be more timely. And the music will blow you away.
• The beloved “Midsomer Murders” enters its 19th season, streaming today on Acorn.
Acorn has just announced a contest that will award one lucky viewer a chance to win a weeklong tour of locations featured in its series “Doc Martin” and “Agatha Raisin.” TV buffs and Anglophiles can enter at www2.acorn.tv/tourofengland.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Cartoon Network launches an animated series adapted from the 2009 movie “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” (6:30 p.m., TV-G).
• Night four of blind auditions on “The Voice” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).
• Evidence may exonerate a vigilante on “APB” (10 p.m., Fox, TV-14).
• Brothers discover themselves heirs to a puppet opera on “Strange Inheritance” (10 p.m., Fox Business Network).
• A stolen museum piece may fuel a nuclear weapon on “Scorpion” (11 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).
• Bryan’s first day goes badly on “Taken” (11 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
• “Booze Traveler” (11 p.m., Travel, TV-PG) visits Portugal to taste something called the “wine of death.”
Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton star in the 1952 mystery “My Cousin Rachel” (9 p.m., TCM), based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier.
Penny meets her public on “The Big Bang Theory” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) ... Nick can’t decide on “The Bachelor” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Kara manipulates the press on “Supergirl” (9 p.m., CW, TV-14) ... Carter and the CTU locate their target on “24: Legacy” (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... The kids must come clean on “Man With a Plan” (9:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG).
Arthur takes a day off on “Superior Donuts” (10 p.m., CBS, TV-PG) ... Deep insights on “The Bachelor: The Women Tell All” (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14) ... Aspiring magicians perform on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (10 p.m., CW, r, TV-PG) ... A major investment on “Kevin Can Wait” (10:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG).
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Nasim Pedrad and Sinkane appear on “Conan” (Midnight, TBS) ... Patrick Stewart, Rupert Grint, Dan Stevens and New Kids on the Block appear on “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (1:35 p.m., CBS).
— Kevin McDonough can be reached at email@example.com.