I wanted to get someone to edit this, but couldn't really think of who, so I figured, what the hell? And here I am just going for it. Thanks for the read, since I know it's lengthy! Feedback's also welcome!
Two nights ago I attended the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, a show I had been anxiously awaiting since picking up my copy of Skyward Sword back around Christmas. It came with the 25th Anniversary performance CD, which went straight to my iPod and proceeded to ignite my senses - that album is stunning.
I was later Googling it for kicks and found the website for this symphony and the 'Coming Soon' therein - my heart leapt. Dates were announced, Vancouver was listed, I was going to see yet another beautiful performance of songs from my youth (Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds having been in town months prior). All the hype was growing within me and I knew with certainty I would not be disappointed.
It was an experience.
Just as the first few notes of that famed theme fans know so well began, goosebumps bumped, hair rose and a great grin spread across my face. In the seat beside me, my date for the evening heaved a contented sigh - this was going to good.
They started with the wonderful and rousing overture, encompassing the entire series, accompanied by a well-crafted visual presentation up on screen behind the orchestra, which did nothing short of fill me, and likely every other fan in the auditorium, with nostalgia. At the end, of course, came rousing applause and our maestro, the very charming and energetic (and pregnant!) Eímear Noone welcomed us in, promising a delightful night fueled by the passion of both fans in the audience and on the production team. Our appetites having been whetted, she turned back to her musicians and struck up the orchestra once more.
There next came a nice visit to the Legend of Zeldas of days gone by, a great little medley from the core NES games and Gameboy titles, and of course A Link to the Past as well. I myself came late to the franchise, missing most of these games and starting on the SNES, but the music was still charming, rousing, and definitely filled me with that childhood sense of adventure all the same. They followed it up with a lovely visit to Kakariko Village, the place that always feels like home in the Legend of Zelda franchise, with its telltale theme all fans know so well. With little pause, they moved right on into a medley crafted of Ocarina of Time’s various tunes Link could learn for his ocarina, which is something I’ve always wanted to hear done, and here it was done right. As the piece finished with the Song of Storms, I could only think, “Well gee, now it’s gonna’ rain” and chuckled to myself over my brilliant wit (or, rather, lame corniness…) Of course, being in Vancouver, kinda’ par for the course, I suppose…
Then the first movement of the symphony was upon us, comprised of Ocarina of Time’s brilliant soundtrack, preceded by a very ethereal, and somewhat haunting, performance of the game’s opening scene, the creation of Hyrule. The entire movement was lovely, and definitely a strong choice to start with as this entry is definitely one of the most profound games in the series for so many fans, and I caught myself wanting run home and bust out my Virtual Console copy to marathon as I watched the gameplay screens play out with the incredible music accompanying it.
Next on the docket was my favourite movement, both from the album and the concert, with the telltale flute playing its jaunty little opening notes. Windwaker came to life in my mind once more, almost having me hum along, if not for courtesy to my fellow audience members. It was delightful, playful and epic as we all watched another rendition of Link and Zelda battle with yet another version of Ganondorf. Our journey on the high seas closed out the first half of the show, leaving me wanting still more as intermission came.
Amongst all the fans that evening was a smattering of styles: some wearing simple Legend of Zelda tees with jeans (such as myself), others decked out in gallant suits and lovely dresses or skirts as befitted the venue of the ostentatious Orpheum, and of course the proud and few cosplayers who looked pretty darned great. One of my favourites was this stoic Asian guy who had done a pixelated papercraft Link that everyone snapped picks of while he just stood there holding it up, likely ever-so-proud of himself. And why not? It was pretty sweet! It was just his stoicism in the face of it all that killed me.
Nintendo had also set up a station to play some Skyward Sword and a few 3DS' primed with the revamped Ocarina of Time, which was a smart marketing idea. I myself wanted to dabble with the 3DS back before the show started, but needed to find out where to pick up my ticket for my date. At any rate, eventually those telltale chimes gave everyone the warning to return to their seats and we filled the auditorium once more, eagerly awaiting what was to come as the lights dimmed. For me personally, I was dying to hear the rearranged version of the Gerudo Theme, which was certain to come.
Our wonderful maestro came back to the stage to welcoming applause and thanked us all for the energy we fans were just pouring onto the stage. It was clear she dug what she was doing and promised to continue to impress. We were then treated to a beautifully enchanting rendition of the Great Fairy Fountain theme, which made me think of every time I saw that file screen, where I would commence my adventures into Hyrule. It was such a pleasure to listen to, as it is on the album, and definitely settled us in nicely for the bigger journeys to come. Likely a little known fact, this is co-producer Jason Michael Paul's favourite piece in the show, which I didn’t see coming when I met the guy. Next came the Twilight Princess symphonic movement, playing out those grandiose themes that really helped to make that title feel epic, like the romp across Hyrule Field or Midna's Lament, so emotive in its compassion. Again, these moments played out on-screen before us with expert timing and execution at the hands co-producer Jeron Moore, who coordinated the video. Like the other movements before it, the performance was bang on to what can be heard on the album, but there was one subtle difference that made me cock my head a moment. While they did have a fabulous live choir on stage, some of the choral parts in the battle theme portion were cut, oddly enough. It didn’t ruin the piece by any means, but it definitely lessened it a bit, without the dramatic chanting. Not a huge deal, but for someone like me, who has listened to the album so much, it just seemed 'different' from what I knew.
Following this was the next heavy hitter in any fan’s mind, the movement crafted from A Link to the Past, taking us from Link’s home on that dark and stormy night, to his rescue of the princess, all the way through his adventures in the Dark World and the final encounter with the big pig man himself. Yet another great piece, and again, delightful to hear something that was not on the original album, and was a stellar way to conclude the symphony. It was a nice touch to bookend the performance with two big titles.
However, all was said and done and my personal favourite piece had yet to surface, though I thought for certain it was coming.
But that was it; our maestro bowed, we applauded thunderously, she got her soloists to stand and bow, and each respective section thereafter, and then she left. Although if anyone has been to any orchestral performance of this nature or concert of any kind, you know there is very likely going to be at least one encore piece, especially with such a gracious ovation on our, the audience's, behalf. Within moments, Mrs. Noone scurried back out and bashfully admitted there was one more. “Gerudo Theme,” I thought.
A fan favourite and constant request, she said something to the tune of.
“This has to be it!” I urged my guest.
The producers listened and we put together this piece especially for you, the fans, but I'm not going to say what it is, she mentioned coyly and I paraphrase loosely.
“I can't wait to hear my favourite arrangement from the anniversary album!” I thought, though it was likely more concise.
This will determine who the truly hardcore fans are, I more or less quote her as she finished then struck up the orchestra.
The screen showed a telltale forest, laden with fog and a young Link slumped over little Epona. A collective gasp, went up from many in the audience as all realized they were being treated to a medley from Majora's Mask. Not exactly what I was looking for, but I could take it. It was beautiful, and really made me want to go back and play through that entry in the franchise. (I've actually started it, just been sidetracked, so don't hate.) Yet another stunning piece, from Skullkid's douchey theft of Link's ocarina to our hero’s saving of Termina as the moon came crashing down upon the four giants. Fans loved it, I loved it in spite of knowing so little, and then she left again, leaving me a little forlorn.
However, something was clearly up, since the orchestra made no move to leave. Within moments she was back on stage, offering another sheepish, 'Just one more' and they began playing once more, those telltale strings, sounding oh so Batman meets Inception meets so damned epic because it's the Gerudo Theme! I gave a hearty, if whispered, 'Yessss!' with fists held high: this was what I had been waiting for for months. It was grand, driven, and made me want to just do things that are generally badass - a piece that gets the blood pumping all the more when listening to the orchestra bring it to you live. It finished triumphantly and she left once more to cheers, applause and bravas all around, but then once more came back and treated us to, this time, the evening's final piece.
The show left us not on an adventurous high, but with certain amount of retrospect as they played a compelling and calming rendition of the Ballad of the Windfish, a lesser known piece, for sure. It was somewhat of an odd choice, though by no means a bad one, to some who are less familiar with the early titles, but still a lovely piece of music. It finished the concert so sweetly and we were free to go off into the night, most of us yearning to get home and dust off our consoles and cartridges, no doubt.
For my guest and I, however, the night was not yet over since I am fortunate enough to know some people. We were invited back to the media after-party where we got to chat with various local games reviewers and such, along with a charming composer and two of the big minds behind the entire project, producers Jaron Moore and Jason Michael Paul. Both were very rad guys and incredibly pleased with the feedback my companion and I had to offer from an enamoured fan’s standpoint They actually urged us to come down to Seattle and party with them when the show heads there March 28th. We'll see what I can afford. But seriously, it was nice to talk shop with them about the journey of the project, since it was they who also got the project rolling with the 25th Anniversary concert back at E3, even though this project, the Symphony of the Goddesses, isn’t actually affiliated directly with the 25th anniversary celebrations. This symphony, from the ground up, is by fans, for fans, and Nintendo took it on and backed it. They were pretty thrilled with the reception they received and looking forward to the future dates on the tour, plus Jason Michael Paul is also involved in producing the Play series as well. It’s hitting Calgary in the near future, so we’ll see if I can swing it. Unfortunately Chad Seiter, the mastermind behind all the gorgeous arrangements we heard that night was able to make it out before we all had to leave our free wine and good eats behind, but he did a fantastic job on all the symphony’s music. I also would have loved to have met Mrs. Noone in person as well, but with a baby on board, I’m guessing rest would be pretty necessary after a two hour performance. She is a delight on stage though, I tell you. A wonderful host who was so clearly passionate about the music she was conducting that evening, she is definitely an integral part of the performance.
That being done, we left the bigwigs to their devices and parted with warm thoughts of nostalgia fresh in our minds. That night, like I said before, was an experience. The whole performance was so well done, and such a different experience as the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert I had seen months prior. While both were wonderful collections of some of my favourite pieces of music, and both sit equally high in my childhood memories trophy case, something about the Symphony of the Goddesses just really hit home for me. The whole thing told a story, which was definitely aided by the visuals that went along with it. And yes, Distant Worlds did that whole ‘play-by-play’ thing too, but Final Fantasy is always its own story in every entry, whereas in the Legend of Zelda, we are always by Link’s side in his canon world, and this performance really let that show, really reminded me why I am a such fan of this series. Fans of all ages were present that night, and I sincerely hope they left with similar feelings washing over them. Another nice touch that they mingled into the play-by-play video was live capture of the orchestra, close-ups of each of the performers, which was nice for those in the cheap seats, and even for those seated front row, to get an up close look at the passionate performance being delivered. I have one image in my mind of Eímear Noone, conductive fervently with this great, beaming smile on her face, loving every moment of the performance she was giving. There was also a wonderful shot of the solo violinist, just sawing like made on her violin, her whole body swaying with the raw emotion of her performance during the Gerudo Theme. These momentary close-up looks at the performers did a great job of unveiling the true passion that was going into the show that evening.
Aside from minor balance issues between the choir and the orchestra, which were incredibly few and far between, I found pretty well nothing to be disappointed in with the calibre of the performance.
If you have the opportunity to check out this concert in one of its upcoming dates, do it, you will not regret it at all. Plus, if you’re a Club Nintendo member, you can get in a little bit cheaper, too, so what more motivation do you need!?