Hi, Gang! Returned but a few short hours ago from the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds symphonic concert, which kicked off a world tour in Minneapolis last night at the Orpheum. For those of you who have read my fuller bio on the Cantus website, you may not be surprised that I am a bit of a gamer, and a huge fan of Final Fantasy soundtrack composer Nobuo Uematsu.
While the majority of the music on these epic games has been synth-oriented, the more recent Final Fantasy soundtracks have included full orchestral and choral arrangements that rival Orff, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, and other classical greats. As a genre, the game soundtrack has certainly gained more respect over the past few years, graduating from the chintzy 8-bit days of Atari and Nintendo. Game soundtracks are now being recorded by groups like the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic and London Symphony. The gaming public demands sound design comparable to a Hollywood picture, and Uematsu has been known for composing masterful songs and themes for twenty five years.
At home, we know a lot of this music by heart because my collection of game soundtracks actually far exceeds my collection of games--there are often multiple albums released with arrangements varying from fully orchestral to celtic-inspired, pop, and solo piano versions, and I have acquired quite a few of them.
I was happy to run into some Cantus fans in the audience, beginning not more than three minutes after I walked into the theater lobby! Met four students over the course of the evening that we had taught: one from Iowa State glee club, and three from Sartell and Como Park, where Cantus has worked as clinicians and artists-in-residence. (I think the kids were very surprised to see me as excited about the show as they were).
The orchestra featured a lot of players I recognized from gigs around town, including a bunch of SPCO members. Macalester College provided the chorus, and at one point some colleagues of mine got up on stage to perform a tongue-in-cheek rendition of "Maria and Draco" an opera that takes place in one of the games. Of course I am completely jealous--not begrudging anyone, I just wish I could have found out who was contracting the darn show! A local classical guitarist made a technically sound and very musical appearance on two pieces.
Here's some footage from the show provided by another fan from last night's show:
It really was a festive atmosphere, with fans young and old (like me) cheering throughout the show. New arrangements of some old favorites were fantastic, and the stage-mounted video screen displayed cut-scenes and gameplay throughout, often with comedic or heartfelt effect.
One down-side to the show, however, was the decision to blast the band through speakers on each side of the stage. It made it seem as though the music was piped in, rather than being performed right there on stage. It was disappointing to have the acoustic sound of players obliterated from only ten feet away. Also, it highlighted a few loose seams in under-rehearsed parts (you can't get anything past the gamers--they know every note). The concert would have been a better fit at Orchestra Hall, though a similar concert was cancelled there a couple of years ago because of lack of ticket sales. The Orpheum's size and advertising push did help in that regard, even if the acoustics there are poorer. the tour will soon be visiting the Baltimore and Dallas Symphonies, so I imagine the aural experience will be nicer at those venues.
After the show
Uematsu made a few appearances on stage during the show (he's a very funny guy), and sat in the audience watching throughout. After the show (because I had splurged on the good tickets!), we got to visit with both composer Uematsu and conductor Arnie Roth backstage. The receiving line was long, but eventually we talked with them for a few minutes.
We got autographs and a picture, and passed on some Cantus CDs to them as gifts, expressing a wish that if Nobuo-San ever wants to write music for men's voices, that he please consider Cantus! Both men were gracious, and patient sitting for photographs with all the fans coming through the line--a few hundred people for sure. Audience members ask for Cantus autographs after shows pretty often, but it was neat to be seeking one myself.
Hopefully the continuing tour of Distant Worlds will pick up steam (they actually encouraged recording and non-flash photography during the show--maybe we should take a clue here...), and bring some kids over who wouldn't normally attend an orchestral concert, and vice versa--bring a few classical concert-goers over to the genre of video game music.