Sinfonia Drammatica was awesome.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into this review. Last year my favorite composers, Chris Huelsbeck, organized a concert called Symphonic Shades, rearranging some of his classics from the 80s, such as R-Type and the Great Gianna Sisters music. At more or less the same time, Shimomura was recording Drammatica, an album featuring many of her classic tracks, such as ones from Legend of Mana and Kingdom Hearts.
On the 4th of August, 2009, they were brought together for a 2-hour concert in an East-meets-West fashion. We had interviewed the two of them about this project before the show, and now here’s the review of the concert. Spoilers: It was awesome.
Check after the jump to find out why this was one of the best game concerts I’ve ever been to!
The concert was held in the Stockholm Konserthuset, a wonderful venue right in the center of Stockholm. The building was decorated with several banners and posters, and even a couple torches and a red carpet. At this point I was somewhat apprehensive–I was worried because I had been to a few game concerts previously, and one of the things that I find somewhat condescending is what a lot of concerts do: they try to turn a classical concert into a rock concert. While that format is definitely fun, I’m really curious to see how those concerts would be received by the general public if they were presented as serious affairs rather than a feast of recognition for the fans.
My fears were abated, however, as soon as I entered the hallway. No lasers, no smoke machines, no backing track and no display screen with footage of the games. This was what I was hoping for: a serious concert that even people without game knowledge could appreciate.
As the concert began, conductor Arnie Roth announced briefly that he would not be talking as much as usual, since we had received printed lists of the concert’s song list. However, he did want to point out that both of the composers were at the concert!
The evening’s set list was as follows:
01. Opening Fanfare – Grand Monster Slam (Huelsbeck)
02. X-Out (Huelsbeck)
03. The 13th Anthology – Kingdom Hearts (Shimomura)
04. Birds in the Sky, Fish in the River – Live a Live (Shimomura)
05. The Other Promise – Kingdom Hearts (Shimomura)
06. Gem’X (Huelsbeck)
07. Colors of the Land – Legend of Mana (Shimomura)
08. Apidya II Suite (Heulsbeck)
09. Main Theme – R-Type (Huelsbeck)
10. Echoes of the Spiral – Legend of Mana (Shimomura)
11. Main Theme – Jim Power in “Mutant Planet” (Huelsbeck)
12. The Great Giana Sisters Suite (Huelsbeck)
13. Title Theme – Legend of Mana (Shimomura)
14. Destati – Kingdom Hearts (Shimomura)
15. My Hometown Domina – Legend of Mana (Shimomura)
16. Turrican II: Piano Concerto (Huelsbeck)
17. (Encore) Fantasia – Kingdom Hearts (Shimomura)
Opening the concert were two of Hulsbeck’s lesser known songs, followed by several tracks from Shimomura–first “Opening Fanfare” from Grand Monster Slam, and a medley from X-Out. These tracks were beautiful and showed off a dynamic range that would characterise the entire concert.
A trio of Shimomura’s tracks, also tracks I wasn’t intimately familiar with, followed: “The 13th Anthology” from Kingdom Hearts, followed by “Birds in the Sky, Fish in the River” from the SNES classic Live a Live, and finally “The Other Promise” from Kingdom Hearts. At this point it was perfectly clear that this concert would work really well. I had been somewhat worried that the two composers wouldn’t sound cohesive next to one another, and that it would feel like two half-concerts stuck together, but my fears were unfounded to say the least. While each composer has their own distinct style, with Shimomura leaning more towards melodic, dreamy stuff and Huelsbeck’s work being more atmospheric and dynamic, they both suited and complemented each other.
The concert lasted for at least two hours, and among the pieces performed were some of my all time favorite songs by both composers–“Colors of the Land” from Legend of Mana (Shimomura), “Great Giana Sisters” (Huelsbeck), “Legend of Mana Title Theme” (Shimomura), and to close, a fantastic Turrican II piano suite (Huelsbeck), played fantastically by pianist Stefan Lindgren. But even the tracks that I’d never heard before were simply amazing, wonderfully arranged and a joy to listen to.
At the end of the concert, the standing ovation was seemingly endless. The two composers were called out to the stage and took their bows, but the audience wouldn’t let this be the end. After at least five minutes of solid applause, Arnie Roth came back and held up a finger, mouthing “one more.” The track they chose to go out with? None other than the beautiful “Fantasia” from Kingdom Hearts, a medley that combines some of the most famous melodies from the game. Absolutely fantastic.
One final note: as the concert came to a close and people went back home, I took a quick glance around the audience to see what kind of people had been attending. To my great pleasure, aside from the great number of computer game fans, there were also several middle-aged and elderly people, and they looked like they had as good a time at the concert as any of the geeks. That’s what these concerts are all about to me–reaching out to a greater audience, and showing that game music is every bit as exciting and spectacular as anything from the classic romantic composers.
[Photos provided by Diana Jakobsson]Concerts, Huelsbeck, Shimomura, Sinfonia Drammatica, Sweden