Features. / The Listening Party

Falling in Love: ‘Amour – Bittersweet Memories’

[By Nafisa Shamim]

It’s difficult to think of what to say about ‘love’ that has not been said before – volumes have been written, countless songs have been sung, snippets of wisdom and heartrending tales immortalised, all in the name of this emotion that escapes a definition. Words, perhaps, can never be enough to explain what this enigma of an emotion is.

And perhaps it was never meant to be explained. Love, at its simplest, is an experience – a spectrum of emotion only those who have gone through it can understand.

And that was just what the Taylor’s University Symphony Orchestra created on the rain-kissed, mellow evening of 20 September with their 5th Annual Concert, ‘Amour – Bittersweet Memories’ – a beautiful, unforgettable experience.

Cliché and overused though the phrase may be, one can only say the night began with a bang. And what a ‘bang’ it was. With one swish of conductor Sunny Chew’s baton, the opening chords of The Phantom of the Opera thundered through the dimly-lit interior of the Grand Hall, and in an instant the audience was transported to the dank, underground waterways hidden beneath the Palais Garnier in Paris, as the elusive phantom Eric orchestrated his dark seduction of young and innocent Christine Daae. The truculent, rich notes captured the essence of Eric’s feelings – the dangerously obsessive love of a man capable of the cruelest inhumanities.

And while the music was a feast for the ears, the sight was no less spectacular. The members of the orchestra, immaculate and smart in black, moved with an unspoken synchrony, so in tune their movements seemed almost choreographed. It was like clockwork – like dismantling a watch and peering to see how smoothly every tiny bolt and wheel and cog turned together, steadily and unerringly, to produce a tune that would not have been possible if even one piece was missing. The conductor, tall, imposing and impeccable, performed like a conjuror himself – every whisk and flick of his baton summoned a different sound from the assembly before him, and like magic the music rose and fell, bringing alive the moments where childhood loves Christine and Raoul tenderly explore their feelings toward each other, but punctuated by thundering interludes with the Phantom close behind them. It was a bewitching sight.

TUSO then guided us to another corner of Paris, away from the glitz and glamour of the opera house and her tenants. I Dreamed a Dream, a piece from Les Miserables, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s masterpiece and composed by Claude-Michel Schonberg, stoked a different set of emotions – one that was wistful, fraught with bleak hopelessness against the backdrop of Paris’ poorer quarters, and the miserable realities they faced every day. Once again, no words were needed to revive the pain with which Fantine reminiscences of the man she fathered a young girl with – the man who ultimately left her to face the hardships of Paris’ working-class alone, but of whom she still dreams, knowing that her love and her longing are both fruitless.

No ode to Amour can be complete without a tip of the hat to Disney and the tales that taught us about love as we grew up, and TUSO followed up with a heart-warming arrangement from Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas and Mulan – all three tales breaking out of the normal love-story formula where a pretty princess is wooed by her prince charming. Instead, TUSO presented us with the delightful treat of a simple bookish girl learning to love a beast despite his frightening form, of a fierce and headstrong woman overcoming the barriers of culture, upbringing, background and beliefs to fall in love with a man from a world completely different from hers, and yet another who goes to extreme lengths to prove that not only men could become warriors and fight for what they believed in – the trait that attracted the man she would eventually give her heart to. The lessons of life at the core of these stories that children adore even today were brought back to the forefront of the mind with the melodic tunes of the concert band and strings ensemble.

Lined up next was a treat for all video-gamers, especially those who could not make it to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s Final Fantasy performance earlier this year. Even those who are not Final Fantasy VIII fans would have recognised the two iconic pieces from the critically acclaimed soundtrack of the game, with the strings ensemble performing the profound melody of Fragment of Memories, and the whole orchestra assembling once again to play the immensely popular and award-winning theme, Eyes On Me, by Nobuo Uematsu. Emotive and moving, these sweet arrangements reminded the audience that even in another world of fantasy, love exists and thrives and tries to spread its fragile wings.

TUSO, however, chose to save the best for last. Bringing to stage one of the most enduring and heartfelt of love stories, the tear-jerking Titanic Suite refreshed the bittersweet memories of Jack and Rose, and the forbidden love they nurtured aboard a ship that was destined to tear them apart. Like the eddying waves beneath the ship, the music rose and fell, instruments weaving their tunes in and out seamlessly to repaint images from the film, both tragic and sweet, and bringing the emotional quotient of the Hall to an all-time high. So powerful was this finale that the moment the music simmered to an end, the audience was on their feet with roaring applause and shouted demands for an encore.

And an encore we got – the night ended with as big a bang as it had started, TUSO and conductor Chew sweeping us into the high seas with a high-energy, febrile rendition from the Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

And it was only as the performance was wrapped up, and the members of the orchestra all lined up on stage, bearing their instruments and beaming with a glow visible even from farther down the Hall, that it struck me for the first time that these were students – students the same as my companions and I, who took the time out of the daily hassle of classes and assignments and life in general to unite for the cause of their passion, and create miracles.

That night, I experienced what it was to be in love.

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