Symphonic Fantasies: London, October 2016
The Game Concerts run by Thomas Böcker and company have been hugely successful in the UK, starting with Final Symphony, followed by Symphonic Legends and Final Symphony II, the team have put together three sell out concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra, which were all incredibly well received. Some people still prefer a simpler format of hearing one tune then the next tune in a familiar arrangement to arrangers Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo’s more risky symphonic explorations of the music. However London audiences have generally received these concerts incredibly well and were very enthusiastic about the Final Symphony album release, with it reaching number 1 in the iTunes classical charts. This success has allowed the team to return to London each year with a new programme performed by the LSO and this looks set to continue.
This year the team decided to present more familiar material to London audiences in the form of Symphonic Fantasies, one of the first programmes they put together back in 2009 then reworked in 2012. I knew that going into this concert would be an interesting experience as I am very familiar with the Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo album, and this is the first time that I would be attending one of these concerts where the material would be familiar. Final Symphony, Symphonic Legends and Final Symphony II were all brand new programmes at the time when they were performed by the LSO, so were completely unfamiliar to me. This time I knew all of the material already so could relax more as I didn’t have to listen so closely to identify individual tunes present in the music. I was interested to find out how the LSO’s performance would compare to the Tokyo recording.
One of my favourite comments from the pre concert talk (featuring principal flute Gareth Davis, conductor Eckehard Stier and Yoko Shimomura) was that no matter how many subwoofer’s you have in your set up, a recording cannot compare to the power of a live performance. This was obvious from the start, the Symphonic Fantasies fanfare overture is not my personal favourite of the fanfares Jonne Valtonen has written for these concerts, but here it was powerful and I found myself thoroughly enjoying it in a way I haven’t before, it felt more alive. While on the subject of the pre concert talk, interesting fact, Yoko Shimomura used to play the flute in high school before she turned her attention to the piano and composing.
Before performing Kingdom hearts, it was one man’s only job to lift the lid of the piano, which made everyone laugh and he got a cheer. The performance sounded very similar to the Tokyo recording in terms of style, speeds and overall balance. There were points where I would have liked to have heard more from the piano as I could see soloist Slava Sidorenko really playing his heart out and occasionally his best efforts were drowned out by the orchestra, but it was still a phenomenal performance and very powerful, particularly the brass who I felt were more pronounced. Slava Sidorenko really played his heart out and gave a stunning performance, and at the end there was a huge applause, particularly from Yoko Shimomura herself who seemed to really enjoy it.
The live performance also shone with the instrument and vocal effects at the beginning of the Secret of Mana fantasy. They sounded clearer and it made a big difference being able to see what the performers are actually doing. From the choir shaking their bodies to literally flapping the pages of their books to the instrumental effects, it was all incredibly effective. During live video game music performances, the choir has usually been the weakest aspect, not so here. The balance was perfect, they sounded powerful and when they sang it could be felt. It was also interesting seeing how the percussion was used from a live perspective, I was particularly pleased to see the big metal sheet making a return. It was impossible for the choir not to look comical when making popping sounds but they kept straight faces and made it effective. Overall another stunning performance.
After the interval it was time for Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross. Rony Barrack came on stage in a bright flashy red jacket, it looked very cool. He’s an amazing performer, watching him live is like watching a dog chase a ball, he gets so absorbed into the music and shows so much charisma. Even when he’s not playing himself, he’s moving along to the music and enjoying it. The balance was good in this performance, Rony could be heard enough even when the orchestra were at a big moment, and the shouts from the orchestra were very effective. The LSO made all the different time changes and cross rhythms and multi tunes look easy, it was very impressive. I was sitting next to two friends of Rony’s, and they confirmed to me how much he loves performing and it all showed, excellent work again.
When everyone cheered as soon as the Final Fantasy prelude started, it was clear what the majority of the audience was most excited about. It was once again a great performance, the battle theme was a good speed, the One Winged Angel tease got a great laugh as did all the times the Chocobo theme interrupted the music and the choir was well balanced with the orchestra. As expected, when this piece had finished the entire hall was on their feet.
No concert of this calibre would be complete without an encore, and the Final Boss Encore is one of the best the team have made. It was powerful and they even fixed some of the mistakes from the recording. For example there was no snare drum at the beginning as this caused a few minor timing issues in the Tokyo recording. The teases were well timed and each one got a good laugh, making for a fantastic send off.
This concert was a test to see whether an older programme can still be as enthralling as some of the newer programmes like Final Symphony, and after attending this performance I can honestly say that it absolutely can. I have come to appreciate more nuances, colours and other things about the music having now heard it performed live by the LSO and it all still holds up brilliantly. After all, the only one of these franchises that has been explored in more depth in these concerts is Final Fantasy, which still gives a good general overview of it’s music. Another smash hit performance from Thomas Böcker, the London Symphony Orchestra and company and I look forward to seeing more next year.
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Posted on October 16, 2016 by Joe Hammond. Last modified on January 5, 2017.