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Video-game Concerts Bring New Life To Hallowed Halls

orget the bleeps and bloops of days past, video-game music has taken on a life of it’s own in the past decade. Sweeping scores performed by symphony orchestras have helped craft the stories we’ve come to love – whether it be the iconic “One Winged Angel” by industry icon Nobuo Uematsu, the Metal Gear series staple melody or the unique shred-worthy title track to Halo. After dedicating hours and hours to a single game, music can be as memorable as any character – if not more.

And while our iPods may be filled with video-game OSTs and we occasionally make the time to see a cover band on the weekend, nothing compares to the spectacle of a live video-game concert performed by the world’s best symphonic orchestras.

It’s our mission to help broaden your horizons, and as such we talked to individuals behind three of the biggest concerts in the video-game realm. This means it’s time to spit shine your shoes, comb back your hair and head down to the nearest orchestra hall. Trust us, it’s worth the trip.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy
Without a doubt, the Final Fantasy franchise has garnered the most recognition and acclaim for its music, mostly due to the haunting and memorable tunes composed by Nobou Uematsu. Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy falls under a greater umbrella of official Final Fantasy performances approved by the musical magician himself.

The original concert, simply titled Final Fantasy, debuted in Japan back in 2002. The response was so overwhelming that Square Enix followed up with a seven concert tour throughout Japan in 2004 titled Tour de Japon: Music from Final Fantasy. Stateside, the concert debuted in 2005. The show, Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy, marked the first time the music was performed live outside of Japan. Conducted by Grammy-winning composer Arnie Roth, the concert series continued with More Friends: Music from Final Fantasy. Later that year saw the debut of Voices: Music from Final Fantasy back in Japan, again conducted by Roth. Currently, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is in full swing with Roth and Uematsu behind the helm, who are the driving forces in what is now a worldwide tour.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is a landmark concert event because it commemorates the 20th anniversary of Final Fantasy, and as such is bigger than any of its predecessors. It debuted in Stockholm, Sweden December of 2007, and is currently in the states. The Game Informer staff will be checking it out April 11 when it comes to Minneapolis for the first time. Color us excited! After Minneapolis and a quick stop in Grand Rapids, it is off to Singapore and Taipei before jetting back to the U.S. for a stop in Detroit.

In addition to scores performed by a full orchestra, videos and art stills complement each musical selection and help to remind fans why we fell in love with the music in the first place. The concert runs two hours in length and draws music from the full spectrum of Final Fantasy games.

To get a better perspective on what goes into the production, we talked to two individuals behind the helm of the Distant Worlds event. Thomas Boecker, the Distant Worlds tour consultant, knows a thing or two about putting on concerts. In 2003 he produced the first video game concert outside Japan in Leipzig, Germany. Branded Symphonic Game Music Concerts, it became an annual event for the next four years, and paired with the German Games Convention to help celebrate video-game music. He also acted as the executive producer for Play: A Video Game Symphony for two years – but more on that show later.

Arnie Roth also has a history in the video game industry. Roth has worked with some of the most esteemed performers in the world, including Diana Ross, Josh Groban, Charlotte Church and The Three Tenors. Roth also collaborated with Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatori on the music for the original Halo, and is additionally the primary conductor and musical director of Play: A Video Game Symphony. Small world right?

“Both Dear Friends and Distant Worlds are performed completely live by a full symphony orchestra and chorus, without any pre-recorded tracks at all,” explained Roth. “The orchestras featured are among the very best ensembles in the world. They are often also the local presenters in the various cities on the world tour of Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy, so there is a direct connection between the audiences and the local symphony orchestras from their cities, and quite a major and important music education element to these concerts as well. The orchestra and chorus are truly the featured artists, not relegated to back-up roles. Fans are excited to hear the music of arguably the greatest videogame composer, Nobuo Uematsu, in a spectacular concert hall, performed by some of the world’s greatest orchestras. We are bringing in a whole new wave of audience members to these concerts that may have never, or very rarely, experienced a concert event like this.”

Boecker agrees that the live performance is the biggest draw. “An important feature of Distant Worlds is the live aspect - everything gets performed live by a full professional orchestra in a classy environment, something we feel is vital in order to give the compositions of Nobuo Uematsu the respect they deserve,” began Boecker. “Final Fantasy has such an amazing amount of great music, so I think it is important to have a full concert presenting it. Even then you have to make difficult decisions about which titles should be featured.”

The degree to which fans appreciate the music and the experience as a whole shouldn’t be underestimated.

 “The fans and the audience reception have been nothing short of remarkable in every city we have performed in,” continued Roth. “During performances, one can hear a pin drop as the entire audience doesn’t want to miss a note of the performance, and the moment the piece is finished there is consistently wild and enthusiastic ovations. We have yet to do a concert where we did not have to perform one or two encores. I do have one memory of a fan who proposed to his fiancée during our performance of Aerith’s Theme at a Final Fantasy concert I conducted!”

And because of that enthusiasm and excitement, Roth doesn’t expect the concert series to lose steam anytime soon.

 “No question that our Final Fantasy concert tour will continue into the future,” Roth confirmed. “Our current plans, in coordination with Square Enix and Nobuo Uematsu, call for the world tour of Distant Worlds to continue at least through the end of 2010. And I am already in discussions with Square Enix of how we may evolve this production in 2011 and beyond, and of course the plans of Square Enix to release FFXIII and future versions of Final Fantasy will certainly be a major part of these plans.”

“Final Fantasy has a tremendous amount and variety of great music, so I definitely see the series continuing,” Boecker chimed in. “There are many places where these soundtracks have never been performed before, and where fans are eagerly awaiting such a concert. In Germany, one opportunity for enjoying music from Final Fantasy and Square Enix games will be Symphonic Fantasies, the next concert that I am producing, on September 12 in Cologne. It is a concert tribute to the music of Square Enix games. Tickets are selling fantastically, and we are expecting a sell out soon. Another proof of the importance and impact of video game music today.”

If you want to check out the full roster of songs performed at the concert, or to find out when Distant Worlds will be in an orchestra hall near you, visit the official site here.

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