Spielekonzerte (German for ‘game concerts’) certainly doesn’t sound like a new and flashy concept in the west, until you have the context to realise that it didn’t find its international attention until 2003 rolled over. Which was decades after the very first game concert ever held in 1987, led by the famed Dragon Quest composer Koichi Sugiyama at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
Merregnon Studios founder Thomas Böcker’s ever-growing number of game concert productions stretched from its (not-so-) humble beginnings as yearly sold-out opening acts for the Games Convention in Leipzig 2003 – 07, into a wide-reaching series of high-class events that are international in scale. Lauded for their symphonic ingenuity, original interpretations of famous game soundtracks and high energy live performances by the world’s best orchestras and choirs, Böcker’s series of concerts paid tribute to the most iconic melodies of Nintendo with Symphonic Legends, which included a massive, 30-minute symphonic poem dedicated to The Legend of Zelda, and the musical talents of Square Enix through the Symphonic Fantasies, a concert that dedicated four Fantasy Movements to Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger/Cross and Final Fantasy, respectively. The Final Fantasy franchise also received two exclusive tribute concerts in the form of Final Symphony and Final Symphony II, both of which featured full-length symphonies and piano concerto arrangements.
Which leads to the main subject of my post today: The Symphonic Odysseys is a Merregnon Studios concert that originally debuted in 2011, and was dedicated solely to the work of game maestro Nobuo Uematsu. in 2017, the production received another performance round by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eckehard Stier, who has led the majority of the studio’s performative and recording efforts. In addition to a concert in Paris, the LSO also performed in London’s Barbican Hall.
Nobuo Uematsu was present in both performances, and was also available for pre-concert talks.
Performed by: London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus
Piano Solos: Mischa Cheung
Conductor: Eckehard Stier
Composer: Nobuo Uematsu
Arrangers: Jonne Valtonen, Roger Wanamo, Masashi Hamauzu, Jani Laaksonen
1 | Symphonic Odysseys Fanfare (Original Composition)
2 | Final Fantasy Legend / Legend 2 Suite
3 | On Windy Weadows (Final Fantasy XIV)
4 | Waterside (Blue Dragon)
5 | Final Fantasy Concerto For Piano and Orchestra
6 | King’s Knight BGM – Pretty Day Out (Kings’ Knight)
7 | Light of Silence (Chrono Trigger)
8 | Rad Racer Suite (UK Premiere)
9 | Spreading Your Wings (The Last Story)
10 | Lost Odyssey Suite
11 | A Fleeting Dream (Final Fantasy X)
12 | Battle Theme – Symphonic Fantasies Arrangement (Final Fantasy VII) (Featuring ‘One-Winged Angel’)
Pre-Concert Talk: Transcription
The first 15 minutes of the talk featured both Nobuo Uematsu and the conductor, Eckehard Stier, who spoke for a bit before leaving to prepare for the performance. The last 20 minutes of the hour-long interview were left for audience questions.
Disclaimer: This transcription is produced largely from memory and scattered audio recordings from a hand-held smartphone, therefore details may be slightly different than the actual talk, and chunks of questions/answers edited out for a better reading experience. Also note that this is based on the live translations by an interpreter.
If you like to feature sections of my transcript in your own articles/videos, feel free to contact me via. Twitter.
Interviewee: Did you initially want to work in the video game business as a full-time composer?
Uematsu: Initially I just wanted to be a composer, but there was no work, which was what I ended up doing (laughs).
I: Like you did for our audience in Paris, can you tell the story of your early days working for Square Enix?
(Editor’s note: There was a previous concert in Paris featuring Uematsu’s music, two days before this event, also with him in attendance.)
U: Well, since I didn’t get much work back then, I just sort of wandered around the town where I lived. In this town, there was a company called Square, which eventually went on to become Square Enix. I made friends with someone who worked there, and ended up taking on a part-time job as a song writer. So three songs here, two songs there.
One day, when I was at Square, I bumped into Hironobu Sakaguchi, who went on to create Final Fantasy. He asked me what I do as a job, to which I answered: “I just write a couple of songs for you every now and then.” After working with him on a few game projects, he asked me to come work as game composer full-time, to which I agreed to, of course.
But the interesting thing is – and I like these kind of weird stories – I had with me, a close circle of psychics among friends, and a week before I met Sakaguchi-san, one of them told me that in a week’s time, my life’s going to change. And then, well…you know the rest: I met Sakaguchi-san, worked on Final Fantasy together, and thirty years later, here I am. (laughs)
I: When you think about the evolution of game music, it has changed dramatically in the last few decades. Can you talk about it through your experience, like what has changed since the first time you’ve recorded with a live orchestra?
U: When I started writing video game music, we only had electronic sounds, and there were only three channels we could use, so it was really restricted. It was very difficult working with those restrictions, but I did eventually get used to it.
And then, the game consoles evolved. You could use samplings, synthetic instruments…and now, you could use a live orchestra, recorded in a professional studio, you could use a rock band, so it really did change a lot in the last thirty-something years.
I mean, it’s great that we can utilise all this in games now, but when you just had the three channels – you know, the bips, the boops – it was really fun and interesting, being able to find out what you can achieve with those restrictions, like having to create jazz-like music, rock music, orchestral-sounding melodies. You really had to think hard, innovate hard, and use your head. So, I would argue that it was an even more creative process back then.
I: Speaking of orchestras, I turn now to our conductor, Mr. Stier.
Eckehard, you have been chief conductor for the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for six years, you have conducted many world-class orchestras, like the Tokyo Philharmonic, Dresdner Philharmonie, and the London Symphony. You have worked with the LSO for several years, and tonight is your tenth game concert together. How would you describe your working relations with the LSO?
Stier: It has been wonderful working with the LSO. I think a few days ago, I said that conducting this orchestra is like driving a Ferrari (laughs). I mean, it’s always amazing, how the musicians acted on stage, how professionally they conducted themselves, how hard they worked, and how hard the team behind the stage worked as well. The entire staff of the LSO is always keen to make the show a special one for the guests.
Touring with the LSO is – as always – a uniquely fantastic experience. By touring with an orchestra, you get to know a lot more about the musicians, about each other, so it in turn becomes a even more closer relationship. We get to spend more time together, we would share a beer at the pub. We also get to talk a lot more about the nuances of the upcoming performances, like the decisions for how we should approach a section of a piece or solo, and of course that’s always a very special thing.
So far, we’ve performed in Japan, and that was a very fulfilling experience. Last week, we performed in Paris. The concert hall in Paris was…magnificent, the acoustics was fantastic, the orchestra really enjoyed playing there. So I think it’s time for London to get a new concert hall. (laughs)
“For me, it’s a big adventure, and every minute is a big pleasure, it’s only joy, even if it’s hard work. There is a lot to discover…I tell you, I’m STILL discovering new colours, new elements. It is extremely exciting.” – Stier
I: What attracted you to Uematsu-san’s music?
S: Uematsu-san’s music is very…rich. If we compare the style of his game compositions and concepts, I would say that sometimes, it’s close, or…somehow related to film music. His writing is filled with accessible melodies, really nice harmonics, and that makes the journey through his works really interesting for me, and I like to think the same for the musicians as well.
I: We are going to let you go now and prepare yourself for the concert. Thank you very much for your time and we will see you soon!
The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.