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Philadelphia, PA Vienna, VA Toronto, ON

Welcome to RPGFan's feature on Play! A Video Game Symphony. We have three editors attending three events in two states and one province (you crazy Canadians) that are going to have write-ups of what they've seen. If you didn't have a chance to attend Dear Friends or More Friends in Los Angeles, Play! is going to be right up your alley!

Play! A Video Game Symphony - Vienna, VA
by Rebecca Cheng - 09/30/06

Movement 1

If you're reading this thing, that means you probably read Patrick's review already. Or you just skipped straight over to the fifth performance of Play. First off, there are a few things about the location worthy of mention. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (a.k.a Wolf Trap) is located in Vienna, Virginia and has two major stages: The Barns and Filene Center. The concert itself was held in the more formal Filene Center. As Filene Center is a partially outdoors hall, weather plays a role in terms of attendance. Luckily for your reviewer and her friend, the evening was warm and only mildly humid. We also scored tickets for somewhere midway up the front orchestra seats so we were also under cover and had a great view of the stage. But if you're ever in the area between May and September, go check out the Wolf Trap and the Filene center. It's a gorgeous music hall and lent a sort of casual elegance to the entire evening.

Much like the Philadelphia concert, the audience wasn't treated to anything special that wasn't already on the program (alas), however getting to see the National Symphony Orchestra let their hair down and do something different was a real treat for me. Besides, how often do you get to hear your favorite video game tunes performed live by one of the nation's best orchestras?

As a bonus, they were giving away free downloads of the Oblivion OST.

Movement 2

The first piece was the rather short fanfare that Nobuo Uematsu wrote exclusively for this tour. Appropriately, it is simply titled Fanfare. Done in true Uematsu style, it's loud, brassy and generally everything a Fanfare should be. However, it is also not really any different from what you hear on the website. A little unfortunate considering it was being performed live, but forgivable. After all, this is only the appetizer.

Arnie Roth took some time after this to introduce himself, the orchestra and a little bit about the purpose of the concert before he played a video recording of Uematsu introducing himself and the next piece, Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII. The chorus opened everything up before the timpani came in, setting the pace for everything. Dark, dramatic and sweeping, it was everything I had expected it to be. It was a bit unfortunate that the orchestra overpowered the chorus in some bits as you could barely hear them on occasion. Alas, there was no video montage to go with this performance so we were treated to different camera shots of various parts of the orchestra as they performed. All in all, like the rest of the Uematsu pieces, it wasn't anything particularly new or innovating that the audience hadn't heard a million times before. But still, when it comes to quality you can't beat hearing it live.

The next piece was something that everyone instantly recognized, even the older viewers who came with their kids and knew almost nothing about video games. As soon as the opening chords were struck, the crowd instantly began cheering while the beloved melody of the Super Mario Brothers started to play. This time, the music was accompanied by actual video footage of game play. I found it absolutely fascinating how they were able to translate the old MIDI sounds from the original game into a full blow orchestral ensemble. Whoever put the clips together was pretty clever too. The clip montage integrated game play from the original Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. Three different themes were used to merge the piece into a cohesive interesting number that began and ended with the familiar theme. The audience had a good laugh when the ending shot was the original Mario in all of his 8-bit glory running into his castle and raising the flag.

Next up was Shenmue. Now, I had known it was coming but it was still a pleasant surprise. Again, there was game footage spliced from the FMVs of both the first and second game to accompany the music. The arrangement was utterly fantastic; dark, dramatic and extremely moving. Towards the end though, there was a trumpet duet that sounded a bit off to me, but maybe it was meant to sound off key. This one is also particularly noteworthy because after the number was over, my friend (who doesn't play video games often and had never heard of Shenmue up to this point) turned to me and said "This makes me want to play the game now." Just goes to prove how far and how integrated into the experience VGM has become now doesn't it?

Battlefield was next. Having never played either of the games, I couldn't really place it at first. During the first 10 seconds, I thought it was 1943. Then I saw the video footage that went with it before it finally clicked in my brain. It wasn't bad but nothing had particularly jumped out at me till near the end when the lead flutist and oboist had their duet together. That moving melancholy sounds made this my favorite part of the entire piece.

It had been a while since we got another Uematsu piece so we were due for a second one. There was a downshift in theme as they moved onto Aeris' Theme. Personally, I never really liked this song, so this was the down time for me to catch up on my note taking and gear myself for the next round of songs. Plus, it didn't sound any different from what I had already heard, except maybe a bit sharper. None of the songs from Square Enix games, save for one, had accompanying video footage and this was no exception. Also, the orchestra seemed to look a little bored with this piece.

The most unique number of the entire first half of the show was the Sonic melody. Now, I will be the first to admit that I don't remember a thing about the Sonic music so I can't say how this compared to the original. But I can say that, like the Mario music, I didn't know you could take the music from Sonic and arrange it for a full orchestra and still make it interesting. There was more game play footage to go with the arrangement. I couldn't help but laugh a little when whoever had been playing messed up and got himself injured by one of the villains. I was a little annoyed by the guy next to me who kept telling his friend that the person playing the game was "playing it wrong." But we're here for the music, right?!

As the first half wound down, it was time to bring out the big guns: Metal Gear Solid. The arrangement was dark, compelling and full of that adrenaline rush goodness that fills me every time I hear exciting music. Most of the video footage was from Metal Gear Solid 3, so there were quite a few fangirls cheering Naked Snake on; not loudly, of course, but enough that they could be heard as a sub-chorus of their own. Not being extremely familiar with the music, I thought the chorus (the orchestral chorus, not the fangirl chorus) was a bit understated and often times got lost. This may just be the way the music is written. We were treated to some especially tasty bonus footage from Metal Gear Solid 4 though.

To end the first half, they pulled out Kingdom Hearts. The only exception to the lack of Square Enix video game footage, we were treated to spliced scenes from Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. The arrangement was pretty boring. Now I can't name track names they used. If you want that, go read Patrick's entry. He labels the different parts of the arrangement pretty well. All I can say is that the oboe solo was pretty impressive and there was enough Sora, Demyx and Axel footage to keep me occupied till the number ended.

All in all, while fun, the first half of the concert was mildly disappointing. There were some good numbers and good solos but nothing that made me go 'Wow, I want a recording of this.'

Movement 3

At this point, the orchestra broke for intermission and we were finally free to go get a drink, a bite to eat, talk or use the bathroom, so I used this moment to catch up on my notes and have a chat with my friend. It is interesting to note that the audience seemed to encompass a pretty wide range of viewers. There were entire families sitting next to obvious gamers (who were playing on their Game Boys, DSes and PSPs.) It was kind of interesting to see how an event like this could reach such a wide range of people. On one side, you had people who had probably never even touched a video game controller before and on the other, you had people who have probably never seen a live orchestra, and then there's everyone in between.

Movement 4

With the orchestra once again taking their seats and the house lights dimming, it was time for the second half to begin. I didn't have much hope for the second half as most of the games were ones that I never really paid much attention to and subsequently never really listened to the music to. Fortunately, I was in for a very pleasant surprise.

They opened up with an arrangement from Morrowind. I enjoyed it immensely. It was soft and an easy way to open up the second act, as if they were preparing us for what was to come and this was their way of easing us back into the music. I couldn't tell you any particular part I enjoyed but the overall feeling got me back into the mood for listening again.

Unfortunately, Patrick was wrong. Prey was not an exclusive premiere for Philadelphia. Us folks in Vienna got it too. This was a pleasant surprise for me as I had never even heard of the game till earlier that morning when I happened to see a friend fire it up on his laptop. Yeah, I spent the past month up to this point living under a rock. It was another nice piece. Knowing a basic working of the plot, I was able to pick up on some of the subtle sounds that were very reminiscent of Native American music. The video footage was pretty, but distracting. It had lots of swirling clouds of random colors. Frankly, I wasn't too impressed but it was nice.

Swing de Chocobo was up next and this was a song that I had been looking forward to all night. Simply put, it was everything a swing piece should be. Brass heavy, upbeat and fun. The trumpets were utterly fantastic this time around. Even muted, you could hear them clearly. I absolutely loved it and it really woke me up after the long day I had on top of the two really mellow pieces I had heard before this.

The highlight of the evening, for me at least, was the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross melody. I wasn't really expecting anything too much out of it so when they started playing Reminiscence, I sat upright and was absolutely enthralled. When Theme of Chrono Trigger came up, I almost cheered. Really. It was absolutely amazing. During the Chrono Cross half, the Spanish guitar and piccolo solo absolutely blew me away. It was just beautiful. I can honestly say that this was the best performance of the evening and thought nothing could top this. Fortunately, I was proven wrong as it was only the beginning of what was to come.

The World of Warcraft was another wonderful surprise. I've played the Warcraft games before (but not the MMORPG) so I had an idea of what it would sound like, but I never actually paid attention to the soundtrack. It was all just background noise to me so this was an extremely pleasant surprise. Of course, to keep up with the high quality footage we had seen all evening, we were treated to FMVs from Warcraft 3, Frozen Throne and WoW. For the most part, everything was dark and dramatic, as expected from a series of games revolving around war. By now, I was really pumped and eagerly awaiting the next song.

Next up was music from Silent Hill 2. At the Detroit concert, Akira Yamaoka himself played the guitar part. Unfortunately, we were not so lucky. The musician wasn't bad, he was quite good in fact and some of the violin solos were pretty good too. Unfortunately, it seemed liked our guitarist was a bit underplayed and got drowned out all too readily. We could see him playing, but couldn't hear him. It was a somewhat weird but an enjoyable number.

Following this performance came Halo. Now I will be the first to admit, I've never played Halo. I've only seen it played a couple time but never played it myself so I didn't know what to think or expect out of this. We were treated to some shots from Halo 2, which was kind of neat but like the Prey performance, I wasn't too impressed. Unlike Patrick's performance, the orchestra was spot on with Arnie Roth and that man was moving fast. They would occasionally cut to footage of Roth conducting and his arms were moving so fast that the real time capturing devices had a hard time keeping up with his movements, so they seemed jerky and laggy. It was kind of interesting really.

After this, we were treated to a little video presentation from Koji Kondo introducing his own Zelda work before the orchestra launched into their performance. Now Zelda has long been one of those classic staples when it comes to video games. Just about everyone knows the main theme so hearing it live was pretty cool for me. They showed gameplay from Ocarina of Time, the original Zelda games and A Link to the Past. The orchestra was spot on and they looked like they were having a lot of fun. The random video footage we were given of the orchestra between gameplay showed orchestra members smiling for the first time all night.

Finally, it was time for the song everyone was waiting for. The audience cheered loudly when they started One Winged Angel and it was impressive, or would have been if not for the unfortunate fact that the chorus was being sadly overpowered by the orchestra. We could still hear them, but it wasn't as powerful as it could have been. Again, like all Square Enix games (minus Kingdom Hearts), we were treated to no video game footage and only shots of the chorus and orchestra. Like the Aeris theme, it wasn't very memorable or anything I hadn't heard before. In fact, I think for this piece, I preferred the CD recordings.

Considering One Winged Angel was the last piece on the program, everyone was expecting it to be over, but when the orchestra didn't leave the stage people knew something was up. So when Arnie Roth reappeared and announced that they had a special encore, it got really quiet really fast. We were treated to a musical presentation of Blue Dragon. The music was light, quirky and a rather bright, especially when compared to the pieces that came before it. There was footage of cartoon robots and the main character was classic Toriyama. All in all, it was a great way to end the evening.

Last Thoughts

I was somewhat disappointed that we didn't get any special guests or special performances as compared to the Detroit and Stockholm concerts as well as the upcoming Toronto one. Also, I was a little disappointed by lack of Square Enix footage. All in all though, I had a fantastic time and really, it just goes to show how far video game music has come over the years. They managed to entertain and enchant an audience of over six thousand people, the elderly and the young alike, for over two hours. I think more concerts like these might draw the younger generation back into the world of strings and winds and give something for people of all generations to talk about.








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