Game Music

Fantasy Comes Home: Distant Worlds NYC Photos & Concert Impressions

April 14, 2011 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Fantasy Comes Home: Distant Worlds NYC Photos & Concert Impressionson Twitter

Photos: Emi Spicer

The music of the Final Fantasy series is not normally the kind of music I like to share with others. That is to say, my initial exposure to Nobuo Uematsu’s captivating scores was such an event that it gave me this neurotic feeling that I was getting my own personal concert; that this music would only be enjoyed by me, alone, in the comfort of my living room, as the soundtrack to the equally memorable interactive stories I experienced in my youth.

This is precisely what scares me about events like Distant Worlds — Seeing this intimate and once-personal love affair become an event, an all-inclusive happening that I must now “share” with others: The screaming fan girls. The cosplayers. And the under-dressed nerds who’ve clearly never been to an opera house that didn’t have chocobo tracks near the entrance.

But for all my stupid, jaded selfishness, I quickly found myself elated to be sitting in a 6th row orchestra seat at Distant Worlds, Final Fantasy‘s symphonic revue of videogame music, when it came to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City. Joining an orchestra led by Grammy award-winner Arnie Roth, guest instrumentals, opera singers and of course Nobuo Uematsu himself were some of the many surprises that defined this unconventional but memorable evening. Hit the jump for photos and impressions from the second night of Distant Worlds’ NYC debut.

My first relief came when it didn’t seem like I was at a circus. Cosplay notwithstanding, this felt like a concert, and the stigma I had always associated with the gimmicky razzle-dazzle of events like Videogames Live did not apply here. There was however a large video screen showing images from the games as the orchestra played. Sometimes it worked, such as when it displayed long still shots of series illustrator Yoshitaka Amano’s gorgeous character art. But at most points it just felt like a visual pacifier designed to distract the audience with something so the kids wouldn’t get antsy. Still, I found it easy at most points to simply look away and enjoy the music.

The program, which opened with Uematsu himself jumping from the stage to sit in the row directly behind me (cue hyperventilating fangirls), spanned the series timeline nicely and didn’t play favorites. At one point we were treated to a medley of the first three games, which I particularly enjoyed hearing arranged for orchestra. Strangely, the game graphics being projected during this portion were from the souped-up PSP and DS versions of the  games, much to the dismay of the audience. (Are the 8-bit graphics too retro for you, Square-Enix?)

At another point the program broke from Uematsu’s work entirely to play Masashi Hamauzu’s “Blinded by Light” and “Fabula Nova Chrystallis” from Final Fantasy XIII. These are both fantastic pieces, but like several other selections, I couldn’t help but feel like they should have been arranged to have more natural-sounding endings rather than leaving them rough along the edges.

Following that, a pleasant surprise: We got to hear two pieces from Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy XIV performed live for the very first time. First, “Navigator’s Glory,” a grand victory march filled with swelling horns and driving percussion. Then the somber “Twilight Over Thanalan” joined piano and strings for a repetitive but sweet-sounding melodic nocturne.

But perhaps the best surprise of the night was when Roth and co. were joined on stage by three opera singers to perform the famous Maria & Draco opera from Final Fantasy VI in its entirety. I’ve long maintained that next to “Dancing Mad,” this is one of the greatest single pieces Uematsu has ever composed. And boy, hearing it live did not disappoint. All of the previously translation-botched opera lyrics were replaced with natural and beautiful-sounding cadence and every note can be played exactly as it was sequenced in the original game — a testament to Uematsu’s uncanny knack for composition and dynamics in game audio.

When all is said and done, Uematsu joins Roth on stage to cap off the night with a decidedly non-classy but intensely audience-pleasing send-off: A singalong to “One Winged Angel” with the entire audience as the choir. Uematsu cheerily conducts the makeshift vocal section alongside Roth (who adorably has the same long ponytailed “cool old guy” haircut as Uematsu) and shouts of “SE-PHI-ROTH!” ring out with deafening enthusiasm.

I’m still not crazy about videogame music concerts, but despite its various annoyances, Distant Worlds won me over with surprising ease. Check our photo gallery below to see what you missed, and be sure not to pass up a chance to check it out yourself if the event travels to your neck of the woods in the near future.

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