RECENTLY, to commemorate Malaysia’s 61 years of independence and Malaysia Day, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) held a sold-out tribute concert to celebrate musical icons from our country’s illustrious past.
The Semalam di Malaya concert began with the titular song, a piece composed by Saiful Bahari and rearranged by Leonard Yeap, which was sung by Liza Hanim making her debut at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas.
Liza next delivered Zubir Said’s Sayang di Sayang, which was rearranged by Ahmad Muriz Che Ros, the conductor of the concert.
Her third song was Ahmad Jaafar’s Jelingan Manja, with a new arrangement by Yeap.
Here, Liza showed her skill as a powerful vocalist, matching the orchestra in every note.
After the interval, she appeared more relaxed, a fact she confirmed at a press conference after the concert.
A medley of Saiful’s patriotic songs followed, with the audience quietly singing along to his Berjaya and Prajurit Tanah Air, rearranged by Luqman Aziz.
The orchestral arrangement gave the songs an epic feel that was befitting the soundtrack of a cinematic saga.
Composer Tan Sri Ahmad Merican’s Tanah Pusaka, rearranged by Vivian Chua, was the only other instrumental piece at the concert.
Pop singer Wan Aishah Wan Ariffin, better known as Aishah, made her presence felt in her second appearance on the MPO stage with Luqman’s arrangement of Zubir’s Setangkai Kembang Melati.
There was not a single dry eye in the concert hall when Aishah sang the Ahmad Jaafar track Ibu, which was rearranged by Ahmad Muriz.
She said in a later press conference that even though the song was simple, the hardest part was to convey the emotions in it.
Aishah’s last solo piece was Jimmy Boyle’s Jauh Jauh, with Ahmad Muriz giving it a new arrangement.
Of course, who could ignore the most celebrated composer in Malaysia at that time, Tan Sri P. Ramlee. Doing the honours was none other than Musly Ramlee, a top Ramlee impersonator who also played the maestro in the 2008 theatre production of P. Ramlee the Musical.
Musly brought Ramlee to ‘live’ with renditions of Hujan di Tengahari (rearranged by Syed Sharir Faisal Syed Hussain), and a medley comprising Nak Dara Rindu, Di Mana Kan Ku Cari Ganti, and Kwek Mambo (rearranged by Ahmad Muriz).
For Rachel Guerzo and the Rachel Guerzo Trio, the opportunity to play the songs composed by her late grandfather, Alfonso Soliano, with an orchestra was a dream come true.
Together, they performed the jazzy medley of Airmata Berderai, and Gadis Idaman rearranged by Jenny Chin, and Tunas Kasih rearranged by Ahmad Muriz, that would not sound out of place in a spy movie.
Rachel’s ability to sing, play the piano, and watch for cues from the conductor all at the same time was amazing.
Everyone, including Ahmad Muriz, the Rachel Guerzo Trio, and the MPO, should get credit for making Tunas Kasih sound so awe-inspiring.
The evening ended with the quartet of Liza, Aishah, Musly, and Rachel singing the Ramlee number, Joget Malaysia, rearranged by Luqman.
As a surprise encore, the four gave a rendition of one of Ramlee’s greatest hits, Getaran Jiwa, with a new arrangement by Vivian.
The song turned out to be the highlight of the evening.
According to Musly, they had only one day to rehearse and harmonise together as a quartet on that song, and the end result was testament to the skill and talent of these singers.
Semalam di Malaya brought back the music and songs of some of Malaysia’s most celebrated composers from the past, which were reimagined by a group of talented musical arrangers, performed by the country’s premier orchestra, and sung by some of the country’s best vocalists.
Indeed, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for those who were there that night.