Thoran's Window

A collection of rants, thoughts, and anecdotes from Dylan Holmes

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Curious Aero goes to the Symphony
Big Serge
So, last night I attended Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds at the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. My description of the event will be a bit lengthy, so I'm LJ-cutting it.

Lisa & I arrived at Benaroya Hall around 7:00, half an hour before the start of the concert. The hall is beautiful and very modern, having been constructed just 10 years ago. The first thing one noticed was the makeup of the people milling about: largely youth, which is pretty much unheard of at the orchestra but to be expected for this event. There were also a disproportionate amount of Asians, particularly Japanese (again, to be expected).

The second thing one noticed was the merchandise line. There was a booth selling t-shirts and CDs, and the line wound all the way around the massive foyer. Never have a seen a crowd so eager to purchase merchandise.

We had good seats in the center of the hall, with a clear view of the stage and the MASSIVE screen hanging above it. On the way to our seats, we received the program. The set list was:

FF VIII: Liberi Fatali (feat. Seattle Choral Company)
FFX: To Zanarkand
FFVIII: Don't Be Afraid
FF VII: Aerith's Theme
FF I-III: Medley 2002
FF V: Dear Friends
FF IX: Vamo' alla Flamenco
FF VIII: Love Grows
FF XI: Ronfaure
Final Fantasy Series: Main Theme


FF VII: Opening - Bombing Mission
FF VIII: Fisherman's Horizon (Feat. Seattle Choral Company)
FF XI: Memoro de la Stono - Distant Worlds (Feat. Seattle Choral Company and Angela Niederloh as the mezzo-soprano)
FF VIII: Man with the Machine Gun
FF IV: Theme of Love
FF Series: Swing de Chocobo
FF VI: Opera - Maria and Draco (feat. Angela Niederloh as mezzo-soprano, Stephen Rumph as tenor and Michael Delos as bass)
FF VI: Terra's Theme

The first thing I noticed was that (as expected) the list was made up of safe choices, the most popular songs from their respective games. This is disappointing insofar as that many of my fav songs don't fall into the class, as well as the fact that some of these have been done to death. There were two big surprises, however. Surprise one: no One-Winged Angel (I figured that Uematsu and Arnie Roth, the conductor, were tired of it). Surprise two: the game/song distribution. Each game got one to two songs, with the exception of FF VIII, which got five. I've long maintained that FF VIII the height of the series musically, but I've always gotten the impression that (Chewi aside) no one much agrees with me on this. Apparently Roth and/or Uematsu do.

Around 7:35 the lights dimmed and Nobuo Uetmatsu walked onto the stage, sporting one of the most fantastic getups I have ever seen. It looked like a cross between the ropes of a Shinto priest and a smuggler outfit ala Han Solo. He also sported an adorable pig-tailed bandana. He bowed, waved, then left the stage and took his seat. Next to appear was Arnie Roth. He took the stand, and the orchestra and choir immediately launched into Liberi Fatali.

A video played on the large screen along with the music, largely featuring scenes from FF VIII's opening but also inserting various scenes not originally included in that. It was nice eye candy, but frankly I would have rather not had it. First, it distracted from the music, and second, a lot of FF stuff looks pretty stupid when taken out of context (though to be fair, a good chunk of it is pretty stupid in context). The performance, like all that would follow, was pitch-perfect; I frequently had to stare at the hands of musicians to ensure that this was not an elaborate pantomime of an electronic recording. The only downside was that the music *was* being fed through speakers, which lowered the fidelity a bit (do orchestras normally use speakers?) but it was very nice nonetheless.

Arnie then gave a brief talk about the music, Uematsu, thanks to the orchestra, etc. He noted that they had a lot of music to get through and so he would not be talking much during the concert. He listed the next few pieces, then they moved right off.

To Zanarkand was beautiful, and sounds fairly difference orchestral than it does as a piano piece (obviously). I find the FFX soundtrack to be pretty forgettable as a whole, but this one is a nice song and its understandable why it's the "big one" from that game. Again, they just displayed a bunch of FFX CG. I was getting pretty tired of this stuff, and actually started to close my eyes so I could just listen to the music - but I figured I might as well get the INTENDED CONCERT EXPERIENCE.

At the end, the music stopped. The screen - for the first time - transitioned to in-game footage. It was the scene from Final Fantasy VIII where Zell, Seifer, and Squall are standing around the fountain with the dog (as a bonus, this was the Japanese version). Seifer runs off, and the group follows. Of course, while following, they get into a random battle...and the orchestra fired up Don't Be Afraid. This was cute, and a more effective use of video system. Don't Be Afraid was particularly fun live thanks to its bombast (EETS SUPER BOMBAD).

We then went into a particularly lengthy rendition of Aerith's Theme (or maybe it just felt that way because I was rather tired of the song). Again, the video was interesting on this one: in-game footage of conversations between Cloud and Aerith...with all the text boxes removed. Lemme tell you, it's pretty funny-looking, but it was a novel presentation. There was occasional CG. Of course, eventually we get to the BIG MOMENT...Aerith looks up....and the video fades before Sephiroth appears. End song. That was much appreciated by me - I couldn't handle the schmaltz.

Medley 2002 was probably my favorite piece of the show - these old songs gain particular benefits from orchestration, and the video was fun. The first third was in-game footage; the second third was Amano concept art; and the third third (awkward phrase) was super-fancy FF III CG scenes, presumably from the DS release (I never played it because it sounded like it was incredibly dated and the gameplay was shit).

For Dear Friends, they brought a classical guitarist on-stage. Good fun!

He stuck around for Vamo' alla Flamenco, which isn't as overdone as most of the other songs on the set list. Wasn't sure how they orchestra would simulate castanets, but they did it.

Love Grows marked a return to FF VIII, as well as a collection of CG scenes that added nothing to the music. Boo.

I've never played FF XI, and so never heard the music; Ronfaure was refreshingly and pleasant, though not (as of this writing) memorable.

I've never been huge on the Main Theme (sounds like a saccharine wedding piece to me) and so remember essentially nothing of the performance.

During intermission, there was (once again) and infinitely longer line for merchandise than there was for booze. Ha!

Bombing Mission was excellent - again, this song seems to particularly benefit from a live performance. The highlight was that, during the "train pulling into the station" segment, the orchestra perfectly simulated the "sheh-sheh" sound of the train. I could not begin to figure out how they did that.

I've always really liked Fisherman's Horizon, and this piece was one of the highlights of the show. Much of the music sounds exactly like what you would find on any orchestral soundtrack. This one was clearly re-done for concert, though, as more choral parts were added and the sound has a more complex dynamic. Very pleasant.

Distant Worlds was new to me, and I was surprised to find that the lyrics were in English. In true opera manor, the singer used no mic and simply projected.

Man with the Machine Gun is also an extra-fun live piece. I've never considered it one of the best songs of FF VIII, but I will say that it sounds much better in an orchestra than it does in-game.

Theme of Love was probably the low-light of the concert. No fault of the orchestra, but the song's pretty simple, pretty schmaltzy, and too long. It doesn't help that it shows a bunch of FF IV CG (from the remake, I assume) that features Rosa running around in some sort of weird bikini for no apparent reason whatsoever. If there was one video segment that made Final Fantasy look particularly immature, this was it.

Swing de Chocobo is not featured in any game, and was apparently composed by Uematsu for FF concert purposes. It's basically the Chocobo theme done "big-band" style, and is a hoot. The video showed an equally amusing chocobo montage from across the series, at one point breaking into 9 different windows.

And then we get to the Opera. Not sure what to make of this. It's highly amusing as a light-hearted opera parody, and just ridiculous if taken seriously. To their credit, I'm pretty sure the FF designers mostly intended the former, and as such it was highly enjoyable. The best part was that the lyrics were sung in English, and hearing professional opera singers seriously project ridiculous lines was a hoot.

Next, Terra's Theme. It's kind of predictable as an orchestra piece, but a great song none-the-less. The cool part was that they hacked the FF6 opening credits (of the mechs walking across the snow) so it displayed the credits for the concert rather than the game.

Things wind down, we're preparing to leave, BUT WAIT, Arnie says we have time for ONE MORE SONG. The bad news: It is, of course, One-Winged Angel, an excellent piece that has become a victim of its own success. I've heard it a million times, and the bombastic Latin stylings of it and Liberi Fatali have become a Hollywood cliché at this point. The good news: They got Uematsu to join the choir for the song. Adorable.

Despite my reservations, the performance was thoroughly enjoyable and I was smiling straight up the to the point where the airship crashed into Benaroya Hall, killing the entire wind section, half the vocalists, and two moogles.

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Yet again, you bastard. Seriously though, it sounded great. Wish I'd been there. :(

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