Game Music

Haunted Evening: Castlevania The Concert Impressions!

March 2, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook Haunted Evening: Castlevania The Concert Impressions!on Twitter

Well, it’s going to be hard to write about this objectively. It’s friggin’ Castlevania, what do you want from me! Some of my earliest memories of playing games were the absolutely splendid (and horrifically hard) Castlevania III, and the fantastic Super Castlevania IV (still my all-time favorite platformer). Both Yamashita’s work on the NES games, the stuff by Masanori Adachi, Sotaro Tojima and various others on the SNES and PC Engine, as well as the modern tracks by Michiru Yamane (and others) have been completely etched into my mind and have become as much canon as anything else I can think of.

As a composer, there’s not a single track I make that has not been influenced by these works. So when a concert was announced, I couldn’t be more excited. And not only would Michiru Yamane be there (performing!), but Yamashita personally endorsed the concert with this adorable video message, supplied by none other than OSV’s Audun Sorlie for this concert!

Was it as good as I imagined in my head? Find out after the cut…

When we (our group consisted of myself, Audun and photographer/filmer Arne) entered the concert hall, we were greeted by a setting with some skeletons and candles, as well as some fairly cheesy horror-type sound effects. Part of me started worrying—would this be a pantomime, and not a fitting tribute to the music? The concert hall started filling up, and as the instrumentalists streamed into the room, a few of them very young! I know they were the Stockholm Youth Symphonic Orchestra, but I thought that would mean 20 and 30 year olds, not kids. But thankfully, they played the pieces with a passion and precision belying their age. The selection of pieces was from a variety of games, though overwhelmingly material from Michiru Yamane (this isn’t so surprising, since she was attending, and has also written the majority of Castlevania soundtracks). During the opening track, the organizer of the program, David Westerlund (also playing electric piano), was rolled in. When I say he was rolled in, I mean it—he was in a coffin, and dressed as Dracula! Not only that, but the producer Erik Eklund, who also played the wonderful grand organ, was dressed as everyone’s favorite vampire slayer, Simon Belmont.

I’m not generally a huge fan of the kind of panto over-the-top stuff that occurred during shows like Video Game Live. I prefer a concert to be a simple affair where the music speaks for itself. Thankfully though, my initial fears were quickly abated as the night went on, with songs like Castlevania IV’s Simon Belmont’s theme, or some of Symphony of the Night’s more obscure tracks like “Lost Painting,” each performed with love and care. David made some jokes that he was a vampire, but it was generally quite understated and clearly not meant to show off or be overly dramatic, just a bit silly, which I really don’t mind. There were several guest performers that all did a great job: young, talented pianist Asuka Nakamura took the stage to play several piano-lead pieces, including a great arrangement of the Super Castlevania IV track “Chandeliers.” Also a guest performer was the violinist Maria Eklund, who performed an absolutely smashing version of “Calling from Heaven,” from the Megadrive game Bloodlines, together with the first violinist of the Stockholm Youth Symphonic Orchestra.

When it came time for the final guest of honor to take to the stage, it was an emotional moment for a lot of the people involved, audience and organizers alike. David Westerlund even got a little choked up announcing her arrival, which drew a huge supportive applause from the crowd. And when Michiru Yamane walked up, the crowd immediately gave her a warm, heartfelt standing ovation. It looked like she was a bit embarrassed by the attention she was getting, but after shyly bowing to the crowd, she took her seat in front of the classic harpsichord and played the fantastic “Wood Carving Partita.” I always really liked the more calm tracks on the Symphony of the Night soundtrack, so in more ways than one, this performance was a highlight for me.

As the first half of the concert drew to a close, they finished very strongly, with a medley of classic Yamashita themes from Castlevania 1 through 3. Unfortunately, David neglected to mention the composer’s name, nor gave her credit for helping to promote the event, which I thought was a bit of a slight to her (though, I would assume, unintentionally so). Nevertheless, the performance of “Vampire Killer,” “Bloody Tears” and “Beginning” was absolutely spectacular, and got the crowd really fired up. It was a good point to take a break, if only to let the ears rest a bit and let us come to our senses.

The second half of the concert was a slightly more subdued affair, with some more subtle tracks, as well as a long grand piano solo by David Westerlund, in which he even played around a bit with Mario! He had previously played a piano solo on his electric piano, which I wasn’t as fond of—it seems to me that if you have a grand piano at your disposal, playing on a synth piano is a bit of a waste. Even if he did make use of the keyboard by switching on some choir sounds, it still came off as slightly gimmicky, and even detracted a bit from the tracks, sort of missing the mark of a tribute in my opinion. Audun also noted that the 8-bit sounds they were aiming for were very unauthentic and sounded very much like a Casio keyboard rather than an NES. Most of the audience will not notice the difference but for us followers of the chip music scene, it does stand out and somewhat annoy you, but it didn’t take too much away from the overall arrangement. His second piano solo was performed on the grand piano though, and even while he humbly asked the audience to just humor him, I thought it was a much more enjoyable performance, and felt doubly sad that the first medley (of some of my favorite Game Boy Castlevania themes, such as “Praying Hands”) wasn’t played on the grand piano as well.

At any rate, the second half of the concert included an all-new arrangement of what we in the West generally know as the “Dance of Pales,” but according to Michiru Yamane (and she should know, she made the song) is actually a mistranslation or mis-transliteration, and should be “Waltz of the Pearls.” She made a new, extended arrangement of this great piece from Symphony of the Night, and once again took the stage to play the lead melody, this time on piano.

Near the end, David and Erik even reenacted one of the classic cutscenes, from the start of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I think if you read this far, I really don’t need to tell you which one it is. Afterwards, they played one of the few tracks from Dracula X: Rondo of Blood that made the cut: “Dance of Illusions.” Of course, it’s a track that has made its way into many other instances of Castlevania, nearly always playing during the fight with Dracula, so not playing this would have been a significant oversight. Personally, I would’ve liked to see a few more tracks from Rondo of Blood make its way into this concert, since it is one of the most defining soundtracks for the series—it’s the first game where the combination of orchestral, jazz and rock was fully worked out, even before Symphony of the Night. I also just plain love that soundtrack, so of course I would’ve liked to hear a few more tracks from it, but that’s just personal opinion. What’s not personal opinion is how great the influence of that soundtrack has been on the direction for the franchise from that moment forward.

With the concert drawing to a close, each of the performers got their chance to stand on stage and take a bow. But the audience wasn’t satisfied with that, so they were forced to play not just one, but two encores—firstly with “Wandering Ghosts,” in which Yamane played the harpsichord for one last time. Finishing with a short reprise of “Beginning,” the concert came to a rocking end.

All in all, despite some minor hurdles (for example: the guitar and bass were mixed quite a bit too loud for my taste in the first half of the concert, but this was thankfully fixed in the second half), it was a fantastic experience to hear this amazing music that I grew up loving, performed with a live orchestra, plus grand organ, for an audience of devout fans. Audun was also quite satisfied with the performances this evening as well, but was a little bit displeased with the lack of composer announcements prior to the songs.

If you were there, I salute you! I don’t know if the concert will go on tour, but if it does, I strongly urge you to check it out when it comes in your area. It’s well worth it!

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