Excerpt: Sunset Symphony – Music in a Kudat paradise

The photographs in the book were better, supplied by the Sabah Tourism Board. But Kudat manages to shine, even with what I have here.

[Excerpt from: Funk, Joanna. SabahSongs: Contemporary Music in Sabah. Kota Kinabalu: Opus Publications, 2013. 44-50. Print.]

Kudat. This is the place where my great-grandparents first arrived in Sabah. It was the 1880s, and they were on one of the first three boats of Hakka Chinese Basel Christian families, brought over when the British needed labourers to clear the land.

JPO at the tip of Borneo

Today, we came to hear the Jesselton Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) play their Sunset Symphony at Tanjung Simpang Mengayau, on the Kudat peninsula which is the Northern most tip of Borneo.

We booked into the Kudat Golf & Marina Resort and met up with some of Mike’s friends for the kind of seafood dinner which only happens if you are local, know what to get, and who to get to cook it.

Our host was Chris Kong, who owns a Blue Swimmer Crab fishing and trading operation in Kudat, and is a local environmentalist. We feasted on fresh blue swimmer crab, grouper, prawns and squid; it was a meal I neither had the knowledge nor the imagination to ask for. Thank you, Chris.

The drive approaching the concert venue takes your breath away with its long stretches of white sand, empty beaches, glittering water and blue sky. It’s so beautiful I’m not going to say anymore. Maybe we can keep it to ourselves.

The Sunset Symphony at the Tip of Borneo was last performed in 2006.

Minister of Tourism, Culture & Environment, Datuk Masidi Manjun, paved the way for it to happen again this year.

On the sidelines, after the show, the Minister said a permanent structure will be built for this. It’s a site of great natural beauty, and a magnificent venue. Being part of an orchestral performance under the backgroup of the Kudat sunset must be an unforgettable experience.

I had a nice chat with Yap Kv, who was with the sound team. He was concerned that my face was very red and I was getting sunburnt, even under the setting sun. Sadly, he was correct.

Performing at the Tip of Borneo is a serious sound engineering challenge. Powerful mics are needed for the performers to be heard over the rumble of the sea, but conversely the mics also pick up the sound of the wind. In the early days of the event, the coastal wind blew all the sheet music around during one orchestral performance!

Yap Ling’s son Yap Yi. Photograph by Rastwin Ratz

The JPO was formed by Yap Ling and Chou Yang Ching in 2007, and has blossomed into an all-volunteer ensemble of 60 musicians playing string, wind, brass, percussion and keyboard instruments.

This evening the orchestra performed a collection of the most accessible and popular classical works, and we basked in a cocoon of visual and aural beauty. The orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a, and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Grace Lee on keyboards played several voices, I could hear her xylophone sounds providing a good anchor in places.

Yap Ling provides a priceless opportunity for young people to perform. Some of those faces are so young, like 9 or 10 years old. What child could ever forget being a part of something as beautiful like this? The JPO has played throughout the country, but I think it will be hard to find a more naturally beautiful setting than Kudat, at the Tip of Borneo.

I took this with a little digital camera of the day, in 2010

The next morning, Mike and I went to Pasar Ikan Kudat, the Kudat Fish Market, to load up on fresh seafood and pack it in ice before driving back to KK. Guess what? We ran into Yap Ling and Grace doing the same.

JPO founder and conductor, violinist Yap Ling

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