Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions: Philadelphia, September 2014
As someone who had long fallen out of touch with the Pokémon series, Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions has managed to reignite that youthful spark with a fearsome jolt of wonderfully crafted orchestral arrangements.
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses series of concerts proved to be a massive success, so it seemed only fitting that producer Jeron Moore and orchestrator Chad Seiter were given the chance to tackle another revered Nintendo franchise. The end result is a new symphonic concert that celebrates Pokémon’s handheld gaming history. Yes, that means no Pokémon Snap representation here. My apologies Nintendo 64 fans.
With the help of a few guest arrangers, including Jake “virt” Kaufman (Shovel Knight, Double Dragon Neon) and Andrew “zircon” Aversa (SoulCalibur V, OverClocked ReMix), Moore and Seiter have crafted a show that encapsulates Pokémon’s legacy into an enjoyable 80+ minute package.
I entered the Mann Center in Philadelphia, which had also been home to my very first The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses show two years ago, and assimilated into the thicket of Pokémon fans that ranged from kids to middle-aged folk. My 3DS XL immediately started tagging random individuals like crazy as I marveled at some of the impressive and colorful cosplays. My mind immediately hearkened back to those wistful days of my youth that were full of endless Pokémon Blue playthroughs. Aside from that, the majority of my exposure to the franchise came through the anime, trading cards, Super Smash Bros. and some dabbling in Pokémon Diamond and HeartGold in college.
Upon entering the amphitheater, I was treated to a booming chorus of Pokémon fans bellowing out Pokémon names in response to the on-stage display, which projected several rounds of “Who’s that Pokémon?” for everyone’s entertainment. And yes, a lot of people (myself included) intentionally yelled out “It’s Pikachu!” at every instance.
It wasn’t long before the 79-piece Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia filed onto the stage. The lights grew dim, the audience cheered and conductor Susie Seiter, a returning member of the Zelda Symphony, appeared on-stage to start the show. But not before humorously tossing an inflated pokéball over to one of the attendees in the front row while exclaiming “Philadelphia, I choose you!”
If you’re familiar with the Zelda Symphony concerts, the format here is somewhat similar, albeit with some very noticeable changes. Each Pokémon game was represented by three pieces each, with the exception of Pokémon Black & White Version 2, which was not included, and Pokémon X & Y, which featured five arrangements. As opposed to producer Jeron Moore or orchestrator Chad Seiter introducing each arrangement, the display hovering above the orchestra would introduce them.
The visuals used in The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses proved to be a fantastic way of complementing the music. Nevertheless, my knowledge of Zelda far outweighs that of Pokémon, so I immediately appreciated how helpful the visuals proved to be here. Through the well-choreographed gameplay and cutscene footage, I was able to get the overall gist of the stories of all the games I had missed out on.
While a part of me still struggled with the idea of fans shrieking in approval every time something interesting happened onscreen, I couldn’t fault their excitement for the opening piece, Pokémon Red and Blue’s “Title Screen,” was accompanied by a scroll-through of every handheld Pokémon game’s respective title screen. The crowd seemed to cheer even louder with each new title in the series, particularly for Pokémon X and Y. I also shared the audience’s laughter when the footage gave the utmost in fan service by way of the classic “I like shorts!” line from the Route 3 “Youngster” Pokémon trainer.
This was followed by the Pallet Town theme, a very sweet piece that captured the feeling of naivety a player has when they’re just getting started on their Pokémon journey. When it came to picking a Pokémon in Professor Oak’s laboratory, fans seemed to almost unanimously applaud at the player character’s decision of Charmander. The sweetness of Pallet Town was contrasted afterward with “Team Rocket Hideout.” The orchestra perfectly captured the sinister nature of the piece, complete with the frenetic notes of the original. These fast-paced moments were made even more dramatic with the unison of the brass and string sections.
It’s not a symphonic concert about RPG music without some battle themes, and “Born to Be a Champion” excelled in this regard. This piece is a medley of the trainer, wild Pokémon and final battle themes that dramatically segued from one battle theme to the other. One of my favorite moments was in “Battle (Vs. Gym Leader),” where the orchestra softened its playing in the lead-up to the outro, letting the low brass carry things through to a building crescendo.
Three arrangements from Pokémon Gold and Silver followed, starting with a beautifully touching arrangement of “Ecruteak City.” I was a little miffed at the lack of “Battle! Trainer (Johto)” in this set, but the other arrangements made up for it with some really standout moments. One of these included “Songs of the Towers,” encompassing the Japanese elements of “The Dance of Ecruteak” and ”Burned Tower” while adding an interesting tinge of Jewish folk thanks to its Fiddler on the Roof-esque strings and percussion. I later found out through Moore that Jake “virt” Kaufman arranged this piece, and suddenly this influence began to make a whole lot of sense.
Another excellently handled piece, simply called “…”, featured a very rousing version of “Dragon’s Den” that served as the perfect lead into “Battle! Champion.” The footage shown from the game included NPC dialogue vaguely referring to the main character’s upcoming climactic battle with Red at Mt. Silver. The tension created by both the orchestra and the footage served as an amazing way to represent Pokémon Gold and Silver’s story. This part of the concert still resonates with me when looking back on the entire performance.
I have to admit that I’m not entirely knowledgeable about the music from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but I was still very impressed with the music, especially with the incredibly moving piano performance from Ruby and Sapphire’s ending theme. I began to notice an increasing use of electronic backbeats with Pokémon Diamond. While some purists may have preferred a more real approach, timpani drums, snares and many other examples of orchestral percussion were still in abundance). Nevertheless, I thought the use of electronic percussion was a really nice touch, especially when it came to a particularly surprising part of the show later on.
Following intermission, the orchestra reconvened with another Jake Kaufman arrangement: a marvelous rendition of “Pokémon Center,” with bits of the Pokémon Red and Blue title screen theme strewn in.
The second half of the show, which focused primarily on Pokémon Black and White and Pokémon X and Y, reminded me of how dark the series could get, both in plot and music. This was especially evident in the Pokémon X & Y piece, “An Eternal Prison,” which touched upon the backstory of a mysterious man named AZ who sent his beloved Pokémon to war. It made for an effective contrast from the peppier arrangements, with a somber piano section that led into a war-like marching rhythm and high-pitched shrieks from the woodwind section. “Professor Sycamore’s Theme” also elicited a loud reaction from the audience, and I could see why. The theme exuded an enjoyable flair that matched the character’s personality onscreen. The percussive rhythm even made it feel like a French tango at parts.
Now for that surprise I was talking about earlier. The final song prior to the encore was a triage of very varied X and Y songs entitled “Friends, Fights & Finales.” It began with a brief rendition of “Friends Forever” that suddenly jolted into “Battle! (Gym Leader)’s” thumping electronic backbeat. I felt like I was plunged suddenly into an orchestral rave with the flute section’s uplifting climb, the string section’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”-esque note-playing and the technicolored visual representation.
After that intense number, Jeron Moore walked onto the stage to ask everyone if they were having a good time, which was met with roaring applause. A whole slew of people were noticeably leaving the venue at this point, to which Jeron joked “I don’t think they understand what an encore is.”
It was their loss, as Moore invited conductor Susie Seiter back onto the stage, followed by Laura Intravia. Together with the orchestra, they performed the immediately recognizable American theme to the original Pokémon TV anime series, Jason Paige’s “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.” I have to admit, despite the song’s corny lyrics, I chimed in with my brother out of sheer nostalgia. We belted out the first verse and chorus along with the entire crowd, until the second verse came in, when we realized that was all we ever remembered.
As cliché as the lyrics are, I have to admit that the song gave me chills, instantly reminding me of those childhood days of yore when Pokémania was just beginning its North American invasion. Intravia’s vocal performance was impeccable, oftentimes adding even fiercer emotion to the melody than the original vocalist.
The show ended with Pokémon X and Y’s ending theme, “KISEKI,” and you can bet all your Game Corner coins that I partook in the standing ovation that followed. Alas, we weren’t treated to a surprise visit from composer Junichi Masuda like the lucky folks in the Washington D.C. shows were. Nevertheless, by the time I left the Mann Center, my thoughts immediately went to why I had ever lost track of the series and its stupendous music in the first place.
Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions is an absolute must for anyone who holds any sort of attachment to the games. Diehard fans will relish in seeing their beloved childhood memories played out in front of them, and those not as familiar with it will get a taste of what they have been missing all these years. Given the Pokemon series’ enormous catalog of music, it would be a shame for the show not to come back around with a second set of arrangements. Maybe then, I will finally witness a truly hair-raising, live rendition of “Lavender Town.”
Concert photos provided by DamKul Photography.
1. “Overture” (Pokémon series)
Pokémon Red and Blue
2. “Pallet Town”
3. “Prepare For Trouble” (Rocket Hideout)
4. “Born to Be a Champion”
- “Battle! (Trainer)”
- “Victory! (Wild Pokemon)”
- “Battle! (Gym Leader Battle)”
- “Final Battle! (Rival)”
- “Hall of Fame”
Pokémon Gold and Silver
5. “Ecruteak City”
6. “Songs of the Towers”
- “The Dance of Ecruteak”
- “Bell Tower”
- “Burned Tower”
- “Dragon’s Den”
- “Battle! (Champion)”
Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire
8. “Ancients of Hoenn”
- “Cave of Origin”
- “Battle! (Regirock/Regice/Registeel)”
9. “Falling Ashes” (Route 113)
10. “End of the Road”
- “Victory Road”
- “Ending Theme”
Pokémon Diamond and Pearl
11. “Dreams and Adventures” (Introduction)
12. “Routes of Sinnoh”
- “Route 201 (Day)”
- “Route 206 (Day)”
- “Route 209 (Day)”
13. “The Lake Guardians” (“Battle! (Azelf/Mesprit/Uxie)”)
–– Intermission —
14. “Pokémon Center” (Pokémon series)
Pokémon Black and White
15. “The Day I Became King”
- “Coronation Day”
- “Title Screen”
- “The Pokémon League”
- “Route 10”
- “N’s Castle”
- “Decisive Battle! (N)”
Pokémon X and Y
18. “An Eternal Prison”
19. “Welcome to Kalos”
- “Kalos Region Theme”
- “Vaniville Town”
20. “Professor Sycamore”
21. “Friends, Fights & Finales”
- “Friends Forever”
- “Battle! (Gym Leader)”
- “I’ll Go With You”
–– Encore —
22. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” (Pokémon anime TV series)
23. “KISEKI” (Pokémon X and Y)
Do you agree with the review and score? Let us know in the comments below!
Posted on September 27, 2014 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on October 2, 2014.