20020220 Music from Final Fantasy concert report

[02.23.02] » Five thousand screaming Final Fantasy fans can't be wrong--or can they? Square puts on an all-star performance of classic music, and the GIA has the full report.

   Square Sounds and Final Fantasy series composer Nobuo Uematsu took center-stage on the night of Wednesday, February 20, 2002 for the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra's highly anticipated "20020220 Music from Final Fantasy" concert. The event was attended by over five thousand game music fans who had lined up for over a mile to enter in the door. But everyone eventually found a seat, the lights dimmed, and an hour-and-a-half of classic Final Fantasy music began.

   The performance opened with a full choir performing Final Fantasy VIII's Liberi Fatali -- a good beginning, even if nearly the same version found in the game. Afterwards came a brand-new rendition of FFIV's Theme of Love. Keeping closer to the original melody than the Celtic Moon version, Hamaguchi's orchestral arrangement succeeded as an emotional, moving crowd-pleaser.

   After the Theme of Love, the concert's two MC's, Masakazu Morita and Mayuko Aoki, stepped onto the stage. They introduced themselves as Tidus and Yuna's [Japanese] voice and motion actors, then briefly discussed the history of the Final Fantasy series since its creation sixteen years ago. This segued into the evening's next song, a stirring medley of music from the first three games. Beginning with Garland's Temple and Matoya's Cave from FFI, the song moved into a melodic clarinet and string version of Maiden of the Water aria from FFIII and then into the trumpet-driven original Chocobo theme. The eight-minute overture concluded with a rigorous march version of the FFII Rebel Army's Theme.

   Morita and Aoki re-emerged to talk about the concert hall and find out where some audience members had come from. When the lights faded again, the orchestra resumed with the FFVII: Reunion Tracks version of Aeris' Theme. It was followed by Don't Be Afraid, the battle theme from the FFVIII Orchestra Version. Both were well-performed, matching the original recordings almost exactly. This segment of tunes was capped by a new arrangement of Tina's Theme from FFVI. Unlike the Opening Theme - Tina's Theme on the Grand Finale CD, this rendition made better use of the entire orchestra to create a more dynamic sound. Next, the MC's introduced conductor Taizou Takemoto and the event's first soloist, classical guitarist Kiyotsugu Amano. Mr. Amano led the orchestra through new arrangements of both FFV's Dear Friends and FFIX's Vamo' Alla Flamenco. Both songs used his talent to widely differing effect; Dear Friends was a solemn, emotional evocation, while Vamo' Alla Flamenco danced through the concert hall with vibrant, Spanish-influenced gusto. After his two songs, Mr. Amano departed the stage and the lights came up for a ten-minute intermission.

   The second half of Square's concert was firmly focused on the series' later games, opening with piano solos of FFX's At Zanarkand and Yuna's Decision by Ms. Aki Kuroda. Both arrangements were from the newly released FFX Piano Collections. These songs carried as much emotional force as any that evening and won back the audience's attention for the concert's latter part.

   The moderators then returned to the stage to speak with Aki Kuroda and to give the orchestra a chance to warm up for their next piece, FFVIII's Eyes On Me. The "Love Grows" version, as featured on the game's Orchestra Version CD, is a vocalless arrangement. This song was followed by FFX's vocal theme, Suteki Da Ne. Pop singer Rikki appeared to sing; unfortunately, her performance was decidedly sub-par that evening. This failing was only underscored by a superb delivery of FFIX's Melodies of Life by the incandescent Emiko Shiratori, whose performance and stage presence absolutely dwarfed Rikki's. Finally, the opening choir returned to the stage for the evening's ostensible final piece, One-Winged Angel from FFVII's Reunion Tracks. The song was combined with a multihued light and video show, "concluding" the program with an excellent performance even more impressive than the studio-recorded original.

   After an extended applause (the audience) and bowing (Mr. Takemoto and the orchestra), the MC's led the audience in a chant for the evening's VIP, Nobuo Uematsu himself. The series composer came on stage with his signature grin, sporting his signature relaxed t-shirt and jeans combo. When you're the man of the hour, who's going to tell you how to dress?

   Mr. Uematsu spoke briefly about the orchestra, and led a round of applause for Mr. Hamaguchi, who arranged his songs for the performance. He then surprised the entire audience with the first-ever showing of the opening movie for Final Fantasy XI. The English narration and a brief summary of the movie contents can be found in a separate news story.

   After the introduction, the audience sat in mute silence for a long time before breaking into applause. This fierce applause prompted the orchestra to perform two encore pieces, FFVIII Orchestra Version's Man with the Machine Gun and the classic Final Fantasy Theme. The latter was especially appreciated by the audience and partially conducted by Uematsu himself.

   Overall, the 20020220 Music from Final Fantasy concert was a critical success for Square and a tremendous experience for all that attended. Square also announced plans to release a live CD of the concert, so anyone that could not attend can enjoy the music performed that evening. On a personal note, my only negative criticisms were Rikki's weak performance of Suteki Da Ne and the presence of so many arrangements already available on other albums. Ultimately, however, neither of these faults diminished my overall enjoyment of the evening. For long-time fans of Mr. Uematsu's music, this concert was a dream come true.

   - Nathan Mallory

   Below are credits for the concert, as well as a list of the songs performed.

Conductor: Taizou Takemoto
Performance: Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
Vocals: Emiko Shiratori
Vocals: Rikki
Piano: Aki Kuroda
Guitar: Kiyotsugu Amano
Arrangement: Shirou Hamaguchi
Moderators: Masakazu Morita & Mayuko Aoki

Liberi Fatali (FFVIII)
Theme of Love (FFIV)
FFI - III Medley
(Garland's Temple, FFI)
(Matoya's Cave, FFI)
(Maiden of the Water, FFIII)
(Chocobo!, FFII)
(Rebel Army's Theme, FFII)

Aeris' Theme (FFVII)
Don't Be Afraid (FFVIII)
Tina's Theme (FFVI)
Dear Friends (FFV)
Vamo' Alla Flamenco (FFIX)

- Intermission -

At Zanarkand (FFX)
Yuna's Decision (FFX)
Love Grows (FFVIII)
Suteki Da Ne (FFX)
Place I'll Return to Someday ~ Melodies of Life (FFIX)
One-Winged Angel (FFVII)

- Encore -

Man with the Machine Gun (FFVIII)
Final Fantasy Theme

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