What it felt to watch ‘Call Me By Your Name’ with a live orchestra

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The Manila Symphony Orchestra played through the entire film with two 66-minute acts, staying true to the classical pieces in the soundtrack. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Of the many commendable directorial choices made by Luca Guadagnino in his critically acclaimed film, “Call Me By Your Name,” the soundtrack is one of the most talked about. The coming of age film, set in rural Italy during a summer in the 1980s, is the story of how two young men fall in love, and at a time and place where this love cannot be made public, it is through the film’s music — indie folk artist Sufjan Stevens’ three tracks and various classical pieces — that we experience the thoughts and feelings of Elio and Oliver, acting as a narrator of sorts.

As Guadagnino states in an interview with Pitchfork, “[In the film,] we have extensive usage of piano because those notes, in a way, are the interior and exterior dialogue between Elio and himself, and Elio and Oliver.”

This is what makes “Call Me By Your Name in Concert” such an exciting concept. The world premiere, which happened last Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Samsung Hall in SM Aura Premier, presented for the first time ever a live scoring of the film’s music by the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO).

Maestro Arturo Molina of the MSO lead the orchestra. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

The orchestra played through the entire film, staying true to the classical pieces in the soundtrack while also providing accompaniment — with the MSO’s own unique touch — to the Europop songs heard through the radio and in certain club scenes. An interesting choice made was the addition of scoring to a few scenes that were devoid of music in the original film, such as peppering John Adams’ “Hallelujah Junction” — the film’s opening track — throughout some moments after Elio and Oliver officially meet.

Of note also was the orchestra’s restraint, especially in scenes that thrived in silence, such as in the heartbreaking conversation between Elio and his father near the end. With the orchestra in full view, their spotlights dimmed (whereas they were usually a warm yellow as they played) and their instruments lowered, it was as if they were telling the audience to listen intently to Mr. Perlman’s words; this was a choice appreciated by some viewers I spoke to after the show.

“Is it better to speak or to die?” Elio's mother reads a passage from “The Heptaméron.” Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

From left to right: Banjo player Lester Demetillo, maestro Arturo Molina, concertmaster Gina Perez-Medina, pianist Jaydee De Ocampo-Lalic, and violinist Alfie Encina. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

In an interview before the show, members of the orchestra shared that pulling off this feat proved to be technically challenging, even though they had rehearsed days prior to the show. “You have to be synchronized with the movie, and that's really a challenging job for the conductor because he really has to be in time with the movements,” said concertmaster Gina Perez-Medina.

Maestro Arturo Medina explained that he was equipped with gadgets to help him keep in time, like a tablet that would indicate when the music had to come in. “Maybe that's the real conductor,” he jokes. “It says there like, you have a minute to go, so it goes 60, 59, 58... zero!”

Though the orchestra had rehearsed days prior to the show, they revealed how live scoring proved to be technically challenging, as there was a need to be constantly synchronized with the film. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

To help him keep in time, the conductor had a tablet that would indicate when the music had to come in. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

As such, the orchestra did experience a few minor hiccups, including playing slightly out of synch with Sufjan Stevens’ vocals during “Mystery of Love,” wherein Elio and Oliver embark on a trip together to Bergamo before the latter has to return home to the U.S. The orchestra eventually caught on, punctuating the pivotal sequence with the same poignancy and tenderness evoked by Stevens’ vocals.

With so much pressure put on the orchestra to get things right, it also came as no surprise that the show had an intermission midway. And though it initially felt to some like an odd and potentially jarring choice to put a break in the rhythm set by the film’s director and editor, inserting the intermission after Stevens’ “Futile Devices,” which plays over scenes wherein Elio is overcome with his overthinking and his seemingly unrequited desire, honors that sense of torturous waiting for an answer.

Seeing the film's closing scene scored live evokes a feeling that can only be summoned by such a unique experience. Photo by KAREN DE LA FUENTE

For fans of the film, the concert adds another layer to the experience of enjoying the story of Oliver and Elio in its many forms, from Andre Aciman's novel to the full soundtrack out on vinyl and on streaming services like Spotify. Think of it as the ultimate immersion into Oliver and Elio's brief summer of love.

And so watching the orchestra play “Visions of Gideon” as a heartbroken Elio sat motionless, grappling with the news of Oliver’s engagement up on the big screen behind them, I was awash with a feeling I couldn’t place — a feeling that I think could only be summoned by hearing Stevens’ haunting closing song live with the piano notes punching through the air as the fireplace's crackling reflected on Elio's tear-soaked face.