Stories about talented young classical musicians are usually full of intensity and pressure, echoing lost childhoods and long hours spent practicing. "In Search of Perfect Consonance," a short documentary by Ruby Yang that premiered at Chelsea Film Festival last night, however, tells an uplifting story about the faculty and students—some as young as 13—of the Asian Youth Orchestra.
Yang's documentary begins by illustrating the political climate of East Asia in the late 1980s—post-Vietnam War and Sino-Vietnamese War national relations were contentious, to say the least, and in the midst of this, the Asian Youth Orchestra was founded in Hong Kong in 1990 to train young musicians from all of Asia in Western classical music.
In its 30 minutes, "Consonance" manages to cover geopolitical tensions and nationalist sentiments as well as the very personal stories of the orchestra's class of 2015. Several students reveal various obstacles they've overcome to study with AYO, which for some means pursuing the study of Western classical music despite its small presence in the countries they come from. One student in particular, a 23-year-old double bassist (one of the oldest in the orchestra), describes working part-time jobs to support himself and pay for bass lessons from the age of 15, while his mother was battling cancer and his father struggled with a gambling habit. Having finally made it into AYO at the age of 23, he expresses his desire to pursue music despite having a relatively late start in the extremely competitive field. His passion, resilience, and desire to work for the love of music seems to be shared by the entire 100-student orchestra. Yang beautifully illustrates how the young musicians and their teachers defy the stereotype of sacrifice and loneliness in the classical arts, clearly creating their own community over their shared passion.
Despite the film's introduction pointing to nationalist tensions in Asia as the reason AYO needed to exist, what's striking is that the teenagers in the orchestra don't seem to be overcoming hostilities and biases—they don't seem to have ever had them at all. What "In Search of Perfect Consonance" tells, through its collection of interviews with teenagers and young adults of various languages and backgrounds, is a story about postwar generations moving past histories of hostility in favor of collaborating to create something beautiful.