The Cultural Revolution ruthlessly
targeted Chinese musicians and composers working in the Western Classical
idiom, such as the heroically defiant He Luting, the director of the Shanghai Conservancy,
who dared to defend Debussy. When Richard Pontzious arrived to teach at the
Conservancy in 1983, he found very few instruments had escaped the destruction
of Mao’s systematized terror. Such problems were not exclusive to Mainland
China. Western classical music was not publicly performed in Vietnam until the
1990s. Yet, Pontzious had a dream of a multi-national Asian student orchestra.
Oscar winning filmmaker Ruby Yang introduces viewers to the incoming class of
the Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO) as they prepare for their three-week
life-altering, career-making season in the short documentary In Search of Perfect Consonance (trailer here), which screens this
afternoon in New York, and Saturday and Sunday in Los Angeles.
Silver-haired Pontzious has built the AYO
into a highly regarded institution throughout Asia. Although membership was
dominated by Japan in its early years, representation of Chinese speaking
territories has swelled in recent years. Yet, as some AYO faculty explain, instruction
at Chinese music schools so overwhelmingly focuses on individual soloists, they
often have much to learn about ensemble playing (the irony of this is so
obvious it hardly needs pointing out).
Regardless of their varying skill levels,
the AYO members (all of whom were selected through an audition process) are
highly motivated. Frankly, it is always invigorating to see such eager and
dedicated young musicians, regardless of the style or idiom. However, twenty-three-year-old
Hong Kong double bassist Charlie Tsz Ho Wong might just be the most inspiring.
After the death of his mother, he endured his deadbeat father’s chaos, paying
for his instrument and lessons out his own wages. Frankly, his story could
easily sustain another doc of roughly equivalent length (thirty-eight minutes).
There is also plenty of room for Yang to
expand Consonance with more musician
profiles. As luck would have it, the other standout interview subject happens
to play the double bass as well. Hailing from Japan, Mayu Ohkado forthrightly
discusses her shyness and the confidence she gained through playing with the
AYO. While not belaboring the point, Yang makes it clear there are many benefits
to playing in a unified ensemble like the Youth Orchestra, beyond the
professional (although they have alumni playing in symphonies around the world,
from Milwaukee to Qatar and throughout Asia).
Not to be spoilery, but this year’s class sounds
fantastic when they finally hit the road. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy is obviously their big set closer and it is fitting.
Whether or not it promotes peace to any extent, the AYO certainly keeps the
music living and vital, which is a worthy accomplishment. In Search of Perfect Consonance should definitely be a short doc Academy
Award contender, especially since Yang previously won the Oscar in this
category in 2007 and was nominated again in 2011 for Warriors of Qiugang. Highly recommended for all music fans, it
screens this afternoon in New York, as part of the Chelsea Film Festival and
has special screenings this Saturday (10/15) and Sunday (10/16) at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Los Angeles.
Labels: Asian Youth Orchestra, Documentary, Ruby Yang, Short Films