Sunday, September 23, 2012

Symphony of the Goddesses

Last March I attended The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses concert organized by Nintendo and Jason Michael Paul productions.  Based on the Zelda 25th Anniversary concert last year, the Symphony of Goddesses concert features a revised and expanded set list.

As a fan of the Zelda games, I had booked my tickets the first day they went on sale for the Vancouver event.   I was so eager I missed Nintendo’s late (by several hours) release of the discount code for the tickets, but no matter, I was going to see a world class orchestra play Zelda music in one of the most beautiful concert halls in North America from one of my favourite game franchises.
As the weeks drew closer I fretted over the event itself.  Would it be weird to walk into city’s storied Orpheum theatre in casual business attire?  Would my 3DS and smartphone  be out of place?  Were the costume players going to outnumber everyone else? 

All my worrying ending up being mostly about nothing.  The 2,800 seat theatre was packed to capacity with 20-somethings, lots of families, husband and wives, and couples and a core of high quality costume players with really top notch costumes.  I was particularly struck by a mother and son pair who sat a row infront of me, the son was no older than twelve.   After the symphony, I wondered what the mom thought about the music and felt a little bit jealous my parents weren’t as involved in my hobby when I was his age.

At 8 o’clock the conductor Eímear Noone appeared on stage to applause as she launched into the E3 2010 Zelda medley.  As the theme ended to applause Ms. Noone explained this was to be a true symphony -- an overture followed by four movements and we had only heard the overture.  In hindsight, it was a great decision to focus on just four Zelda games with a few medleys  allowing the concert music director and arranger Chad Seiter to go places with the music the more generalized game concerts could not in the nearly two hour symphony.

After the medley, the night’s programme  continued with a dungeon theme medley and Kakariko Village theme medley (to much applause and laughter at the visuals of the chickens attacking Link) before moving into the night’s first movement, The Ocarina of Time. Opening in media res, child Link is thrown to the ground as Ganondorf hurries away after Impa set to blaring horns announcing impending danger.  Then a moment of pure poetry.  Nothing really prepares you for the feelings of nostalgia tinged with awe when the screen fades from black to a familiar landscape framed by moon-set with Link riding into frame as the symphony plays the opening notes to Ocarina of Time.  The air was eclectic throughout the first movement and the well behaved audience only broke the silence in cheers as the twelve-minute long tour through the Ocarina of Time ended with a few notes teasing Majora’s Mask.

The second movement was The Wind Waker. The piece is the same as the one in the 25th Anniversary CD.  It has been years since I last played the game and yet the final battle with Ganon  splashed accross on the giant screen  still looks like a painting in motion.  The character faces full of emotions – sadness, fear, anger, delight.  It reminded me how the Wind Waker is still the most emotive Zelda game and it still looks great all these years later.  At this point it became clear that each movement would essentially be a summary of each game’s plot arc split into three disctinct phases.  Introduction, Zelda and Link, Ganon and the final battle.  

The end of the Wind Waker set was followed by a short intermission and the 2nd half of the symphony opened with Great Fairy’s Fountain to ease the audience back in.  This is followed by the 3rd movement, Twilight Princess.  Similar to The Wind Waker, the composition follows the track found in 25th Anniversary CD.   The Twilight Princess movement was by far the most choral intensive pieces, and visually, it stands in stark relief from The Wind Waker and Ocarina of Time.  It also differed in that it included an edited version of the  game’s epic ending sequence.  The scene where the twilight princess goes back to her realm and the mirror shatters was the highpoint for me as the chorus and music soared.   Twilight Princes was the darkest movement in the symphony, the darkness to Wind Waker's light. 
By this point I was at the edge of my seat as I knew the 4th moment would be the last.  How could then end this symphony? What will it be?  I didn’t have to wait long.  Storm clouds appeared on the screen.  Rain.  lighting.  The audience gasped.  A Link to the Past

The movement followed the narrative of the game with original renditions of its many themes and leitmotifs.  By the time the orchestra paused on cue before the horns blared out the Dark World theme, I was on an emotional high.  What followed next would take me back to the past, to that twelve your old kid playing on my Super Nintendo.  The piece of music known to many simply as ‘Credits Roll’ was re-imagined in true symphonic form as the ending theme to the symphony.   Of all the ending themes, this was the perfect one, aurally, thematically and emotionally.   A sad melodic score that had often been overshadowed by the pomposity and grandiosity of other Zelda scores,   I have always felt it was the best ending theme to any Zelda game, Koji Kondo  at his best.  Like many in the 90s, I did what gamers did if they wanted to save something for posterity.  Plugged in the VCR and taped the ending.  I must have reran credits roll tens of times back then, just to hear the soothing melodic score.  It was something I only occasionally revisited in the intervening years, but its reappearance that night was a fitting reminder of a game that I love so much.

After the 4th movement, conductor  Eímear Noone  rushed off stage to a standing ovation, only to re-appear a few moments later.  She motioned to the symphony to play one more song and with that, the audience got twenty more minutes of music.  Gerudo Valley, similar to the anniversary CD track, was the first encore piece played, followed by a very special fan request, Majora’s Mask.  The audience erupted into applause with this piece.   The encore was capped with a surprising entry, Ballad of the Windfish from Link's Awakening, the only portable Zelda to be featured.   A soft contemplative piece, it was a piece Ms. Noone noted was ‘philosophical’ and reflective. 

With that, my most awesome night at a symphony came to a close.  The crowd slowly thinned out of the auditorium.  Many remained in the lobby chatting, streetpassing, buying Symphony of the Goddesses T-shirts and posters. I checked my 3DS one last time to clear room in my streetpass plaza for my final round of streetpasses (I  got over 70 hits without trying) and walked towards the train station, poster and t-shirt in tow.

The Legend of Zelda Symphony of the Goddesses: 
With the Vancouver Film Orchestra  and Vancouver Chamber Choir
Conductor:  Eímear Noone
Composed by: Koji Kondo 
Arranged by: Chad Seiter

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