Yann Tiersen’s moving performance gets a standing ovation at Sydney Opera House

Of course I knew soft ocean waves weren’t creeping up to multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen when he took the stage at the Sydney Opera House earlier this week, but I could have sworn I saw them. The man best known for scoring timeless French film Amélie (mostly with songs taken from his first few albums) staged an almost two hour performance at the iconic venue as part of the current Sydney Festival, satisfying a side of the lovingly curated festival program that intentionally moved away from your typical live band and towards something arguably much more potent.

This was an exemplary thread of ever-lasting composition from a craftsman who has, as far as his solo work goes, made a career out of producing simple, stunning wordless pieces; palettes of tender, often melancholic, works that invite the listener to splash – and purge – their own emotions against melodies so very ethereal and profound that they should come with a warning tag. The way they can spring your mind to life and you find yourself floating through scenery, both empowering and poignant, makes it no wonder a film’s score remains a key ingredient in the art of cinema; especially for projects that rely on emotional depth, that of which defines Yann’s music.

The composer begins with selections from his most recent album, Eusa, a project powered by ambient field recordings and the reason for my vivid hallucination of waves crashing at the feet of a man who is surrounded with nothing but a piano, a toy piano, a violin and several small bright lights illuminating the intimate set-up. Waves recede, birds chirp, wind slinks through and you can almost feel it. These recordings were almost visual components to the pieces, like the haunting “Porz Goret”, or even better opener “Pern”, which can whisk you away to a mountaintop and almost forces you to contemplate things much bigger than just just sitting in a seat listening to a man casually tug your soul in different directions.

While the atmospheric sounds of Breton coast were scored by Yann’s newer material, it was his older works that really got a rise out of the crowd and saw him, after about an hour, leave his seat and peacefully float around the stage to the other instruments lying about. The violin allowed him to introduce tension into the space, but it was the metallic sounds of the toy piano which brought some of his greatest moments, the likes of Amélie favourite “The Waltz of the Monsters” sounding like a violent, dynamic shift from the more classical pieces.

The melodica came out only once, for “La Dispute”, and lead into another of Yann’s flawless compositions towards the end of this two-encore set. I looked around to an entranced audience wondering where this music has taken them, and while all of them looked to be transfixed on the stage I knew that the music was having just as much a kinetic effect for them as it was for me.

Photo by Prudence Upton.

The reviewer attended this show on January 24th.