In many ways, this event was my favorite of the ones I have attended, it combined what I loved about Symphonic Shades with its diversity in style along the prestige and importance that Symphonic Fantasies offered. Most importantly, they dared to be a bit different and gave us exclusive takes on so many familiar songs, takes that will never fade in our memories due to being so different. It was a dream come true and a true gift to my life that I could be in attendance, one that I will always cherish and remember.
Back in September of 2010, this was my closing thoughts on Symphonic Legends, the Nintendo themed symphonic concert that took place in Cologne by the same team that has given us Symphonic Shades and Fantasies. Symphonic Legends was a musical treasure and dreamlike evening filled with some of the greatest selection of video game music, and now it was time to grace the city of Stockholm with the event just in time to celebrate the arrival of summer. But this was more than just a reprise…
Read about LEGENDS after the jump!
As fantastic as Symphonic Legends was, in certain areas it had room for improvement. Indeed the event was a bit awkwardly promoted, and the fans was a bit confused about what the event was all about beyond Nintendo. Musically the concert was an amazing showcase and probably the most bold orchestrated game concert to date. To some, that direction was much needed and pushed the envelope, while others longed for a more simple take on the Nintendo franchises.
Sweden has always been a hotbed for retro gaming, with passionate fans from all over the country traveling across country, even neighbors crossing borders to attend conventions and concerts in the friendly city of Stockholm. It is an interesting fanbase that resides there with both the older and younger crowd being unusually knowledgeable and respectful of the history of video games, and as a result the concerts that are held in the Swedish metropolis have always had a special atmosphere, greatly appreciating all aspects of the production, not only focusing on the quick nostalgic rush.
LEGENDS was for this reason more than just a recital of the Cologne show from last September. Second time around the event was promoted properly with posters, arranger comments and viral PR being steadily put out since the show’s announcement. There was no mistake about what was in store for the Swedish crowd, and they were ready, selling out the show completely to fill up the beautiful Concert House in Stockholm central.
Before the show, a small exhibition was set up by the concert team and Bergsala, the Scandinavian Nintendo distributor to showcase the merchandise and history of Nintendo for the ticketed audience. Behind glass frames, an interesting array of Nintendo memorabilia was on display, from candy wrappers to Game & Watch systems and of course, a healthy dose of Super Mario toys, game packaging and collectibles. A large Link full body model was also on hand, attracting a wealthy amount of attention from fans who wanted their pictures taken with the hero of time himself. It was an interesting little detail for foreign visitors, as people had come from the US, Japan and the UK and realize that the various video game packaging on display had very different art from how it was in their respective countries. A live broadcasted interview with the editor of Level, the biggest game magazine in Sweden, also helped set the tone and give young and old a chance to hear a small overview of the Japanese game juggernaut before the actual concert. It was a wonderful way to include all the attendees and create a friendly, inviting atmosphere for all to feel comfortable within.
Several of the songs were this time around retooled or even overhauled completely to play to the Swedish audience more properly and create exclusive takes only for the loyal audience there. Even all new material, such as Kirby was now performed. For those pieces which were the same, the performance was as beautiful and intense as it was in Cologne, due to the wonderful Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, and for the new pieces they put all their heart and soul into it.
The “Lylat Wars and StarWing” suite was reworked to become even more cinematic than first time around, though with a somewhat shortened playtime to act more as an introduction to the evening, and the “Fanfare for the Common 8-bit Hero” being absent. The Starfox theme is a wonderful opener due to its heroic and adventurous motifs, and the series has always had a strong presence in Europe. The biggest difference was the omission of “Corneria”, a fan favorite that was featured in the Cologne suite. One of my favorite moments of the Cologne version was the choir singing the “Corneria” theme and building into the orchestra, but the lighter take and more streamlined take here sounded fantastic even still and fans clearly appreciated hearing the very underrated soundtrack of Star Fox being properly treated by an orchestra. A small detail of notice early on was a slightly softer sound to the overall concert, due to a larger string section in the orchestra.
“Kirby” was arranged by Masashi Hamauzu, who was on hand to attend the concert. This was a very interesting arrangement as Hamauzu decided to make use of a wind quintet, consisting of 2 flutes, bassoon, french horn and clarinet, effectively shrinking the sound down to a smaller, friendlier and cuter sound, much like Kirby himself is. The quintuple performed a light take on “Green Greens” which as expected felt very much like a comfortable stroll down the plains with small gusts of sound coming at you. In his comments, Hamauzu stated that his young daughter proclaimed that “this is Kirby” after hearing the song, and indeed that is the most appropriate definition of his arrangement. In the same vein as Kirby, “Pikmin” made use of the larger orchestra ensemble, but cleverly employed the different sections to create a soundscape of a tranquil yard, having soft, distinctive sounds to resemble wildlife and nature.
“Super Metroid” again became the controversial black sheep of the concert, much like it had been the year before. In Cologne, the ” Galactic Warrior” suite became my favorite piece overall. This was due to the understanding arranger Thorsten Rasch showed for the source material, and his very daring attempt at not only tool the melodies to work in a symphonic setting, but to actually make the orchestra itself the visceral, intimidating beast that Samus encounters throughout the games. It was a powerful and sense triggering arrangement in a way that had never been attempted before and for those who caught this, it was a truly emotional ride through the world of Metroid. This time, it was Jonne Valtonen who took over the arrangement duties, but importantly not to step back from Rasch’s brave work, but to offer Stockholm a different side of the Metroid saga through music. The result of Jonne’s take on the franchise became a highly experimental narrated symphonic short story, focusing more on the mood and environment of the Metroid locations rather than emotional setting. Along the orchestra and choir, narration was read from the perspective of Samus, telling the story of her struggles and coexistence with the Metroids. Both Jonne and Rasch delivered very appropriate takes, and both did exactly what the Metroid game itself did back when it was released in 1986. It was unconventional, different, mysterious and atmospheric. It doesn’t connect with everyone, but when the familiar melodies of “Brinstar” set in, the venue was filled with nothing but smiles.
Cult favorite “F-Zero” made its appearance in repackage form, mostly to accommodate for the absence of master percussionist Rony Barrak, who was essential to the Cologne version. In his place, Pianist prodigy Benyamin Nuss entered the stage to deliver his take on the high speed racer. Along side the orchestra, Nuss’s impeccable and note perfect playing helps illustrate the fast and tight corners of F-Zero with incredible precision, and like the Super Metroid piece before it, it showcases a different side of the game from what was heard in Cologne while still retaining the spirit of the source material. Watamo’s now trademark layering of familiar tunes was used to great effect in this piece by intercepting Mute City and Big Blue, with Nuss performing one and the orchestra the other in turn back to back. The suite does certainly leave you hungry for more due to the strength of F-Zero’s score, but it has seldom been heard as good as when the Royal Stockholm Orchestra and Benyamin Nuss performed it.
The grand opus of Symphonic Legends and LEGENDS is Jonne Valtonen’s masterpiece, the “Symphonic Poem” from Legend of Zelda. The 5 part symphonic story is in itself an event and absolutely riveting from start to finish, being over 35 minutes in length but never once losing momentum, direction or inspiration. The overall structure of this piece remained the same, though the transitions were smoother and made use of more familiar Zelda staples and melodies, with Valtonen taking a page out of Wanamo’s book and layering the main theme over some of the transitions so the audience could more easily follow and recognize certain parts. As incredible as the other works in this concert series is, there is no doubt that “Symphonic Poem” is a true melodic treasure and the sheer amount of work, detail and scope makes it a piece that is unrivaled. It very much is a true masterpiece, and it takes an orchestra of the talent of the WDR or the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra to pull off something as incredible as the “Symphonic Poem”.
The audience were also graced with 2 encores at LEGENDS, one which was all new. Legend of Zelda got yet another wonderful treatment, this time based around the iconic “Healing” theme, also known as the “Fairy Fountain”. The encore from Cologne also made its appearance, with the victory theme from the various games featured throughout the concert. The arrangers and composers took their place on stage along with Nuss and the orchestra to end out the evening to the delight of all in attendance, being given a long deserved standing ovation.
Having had the true pride and joy of attending both Symphonic Legends and LEGENDS, the obvious question for me to answer would be “well, which one was better?”. Rather than ranking them, I’d like to see them as working together to form a bigger show, playing towards the different markets and experimenting in different directions to move the concept forward rather than remaining status quo. Of course this leads to some varied opinions. Some feel that the arrangements go too far and should be scaled down to a more simple take on the source, rather than striving for sophistication of the music. For others such as myself, the way these concerts are done is exactly what should be done to ensure the progress and reputation of the Symphonic series. While many other concerts do give the quick nostalgic rush and keeps it rather simple, The Symphonic pieces are stories. When you listen to each arrangement, the structure, pacing, transitions, they are all carefully placed and crafted to tell a story that fits the one it is based on, never simply falling back on a simple medley structure, but actually going deeper to place the listener in the world of the game only through melody. It is this unprecedented attention to detail that makes these concerts so special and in a class of its own, firmly placing it very much on the top of the world of video game orchestra performances.
But instead of my own closing words, I would rather share a small story that happened to me after the concert itself and truly opened my eyes to something more than just a simple evaluation of melodic representation. Right in front of me was a middle aged mom and her young son. Throughout the concert, they would constantly share smiles and share knowledge, with the mother explaining the older games such as Kirby and even Star Fox (it was a fairly huge title in Scandinavia) while the son eagerly would explain to his mom the basics of Pikmin and Super Mario Galaxy. After the concert, I spotted the duo in the lobby and troubled them for a few comments as I found them very interesting. When I asked how the mother felt about the concert and overall evening, her answer was:
The fact that him and I could enjoy a concert like this together and both bond so well was absolutely amazing. I personally didn’t know all of the games that they (Royal Orchestra) played, but he would tell me all about them and seeing how excited it would make him made me really happy that we were able to share these moments. It was a very special night for both of us I think”
Even if critics would disagree on the approach to certain songs, the fact that one family went home feeling closer and making them able to bond even more than before, makes the show a total success on a much deeper, personal level. Nintendo is all about bringing friends and family together, and give them experiences they will never forget. LEGENDS did the very same thing.Tags: Arrangements, Concerts, F-Zero, Kirby, Legend of Zelda, LEGENDS, Nintendo, Orchestra, Pikmin, Remixes, Reports, Star Fox, Super Mario, Symphonic Fantasies, Symphonic Legends, Symphonic Shades