Zelda Symphony Concert Thoughts & Video

I check out the concert at the Pantages Theater in LA.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NGSKINOeWJE[/youtube]

The Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert was held on Friday and I was there with my VIP ticket in hand to enjoy the experience.  Since I do not have the experience of seasoned concert goers, this is not a review, but merely my opinion of the events I witnessed.

When I first showed up at 4:00PM, there was not much activity aside from a few attendees already in line.  I went to the ticket booth to obtain my VIP package.  The contents weren’t too impressive, a VIP sparkly badge, a Skyward Sword lanyard (which were given away at E3), and a small note mentioning I have the opportunity to stick around for a meet and greet.  I decided to snap a few photos, shoot video, and take a nap from the six hour drive from the Bay Area I had just finished.

After coming back approximately an hour or two later, the line was incredible.  Already, it was going clear down the street to the intersection and wrapping around the corner building.  As time ticked on, the line went even further back and ended in a parking lot, with people still joining the queue. In line were numerous Link cosplayers, happily brandishing their shields and swords for poses in front of cameras.  Those without costumes were engaged with their Nintendo 3DS systems, playing either Four Swords, or delighted to be getting hits on their Mii Plaza.  As the doors opened, the flow of people into the Pantages Theater was steady, but not pushy.  Tickets were scanned and concert goers were eager to get inside.  Before going in, they were handed a program of sorts that was colorful and detailed what our ears would be treated to.

Once inside, it was a sea of bodies.  There was a merchandise booth setup, which drew the most attention.  Two lines were setup, one for cash and the other for credit cards.  There were two types of memorabilia for sale, posters and t-shirts.  Two t-shirts black and white were available, priced at $20 each, with the Zelda 25th Anniversary logo on the front.  After the concert, the black was entirely sold out.  Then there were the three types of posters were available for $10 each, which all had colorful Zelda artwork.  Unfortunately I didn’t see any protection for the posters sold, so those buying had nothing to protect their purchase.  These lines for the overpriced merchandise tangled up into the Wii kiosks lines which had Skyward Sword.  Although not as long as the merchandising line, the demo lines were considerable themselves.  In the hallways on the first and second floor were units setup to play Zelda: Four Swords.  These hallways were also the entrance into the theater, which created chaos when trying to distinguish which queue to stand in.

Once the doors opened, strangely not everyone flocked inside to find their seat.  A small flow of people steadily made their way inside.  Those who pulled out cameras to take photos of themselves sitting in the seats were quickly told by the staff that no photographs inside the theater were allowed.  No photographs no matter what the subject was, were allowed.  This seemed to me a bit too stringent, especially considering the attendees of the event.  As time ticked closer to 8:00PM, people started entering in droves.  To my annoyance, there were a great deal of late attendees allowed in, even after the performance began.  There was even a gentlemen sitting next to me who didn’t take his seat until near halfway through the first portion of the concert.  He also decided to unwrap several pieces of candy during the show, which in the Pantages Theater is allowed strangely.

At around 8:05PM, the Concertmaster walked on stage with his violin in hand.  He tuned the orchestra which received an extravagant applause, most likely due to the audience believing this was the beginning of the concert.  Once this was over, Bill Trinen and Eiji Aonuma came on stage and the thunderous cheers began.  Mr. Aonuma, dressed in a suit jacket and t-shirt with Triforce pin, spoke in Japanese which Trinen translated. It was noted that Shigeru Miyamoto should have been the one to be at the show, but was not able to attend.  After a bit of talking about the Zelda series, he introduced the conductor, the lovely Eímear Noone.  She took the conductor’s podium and started to talk about what we would be hearing shortly.  Ms. Noone while seeming professional, also looked to be nervous while discussing the program.  Most of what she had to say seemed forced and unnatural, however this may be due to her Irish background.  This production could do with a host and leave Noone to her work.

As Noone lifted her baton, I waited eagerly to hear what the symphony was capable of producing.  I was happily not disappointed with the music.  The show was filled with many wonderful pieces from the Zelda library.  It began with the Hyrule Castle Theme and seemed to go randomly from there.  In Part I, they cleverly put in an Ocarina Melody Suite to introduce the orchestra sections to the crowd.  Although these melodies were short, they were enjoyable in the bursts they came.  Other highlights include the Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley which had a number of crowd pleasers.

While the music played, there was a giant screen behind the orchestra, projecting images of the Zelda series.  The video selections at times were decent with the music on time to what was happening.  Other times it fell flat and stopped during the climax of a song.  It wasn’t all positive from a playback perspective either.  Many times the video had issues with frame skipping.  Another time, they mistakenly put the orchestra over the game footage instead of fading it away.  The selection of game footage to use seemed random.  Games such as Spirit Tracks didn’t benefit on the huge screen while A Link to the Past actually did.  Overall the screen and video felt implemented at the last minute and poorly planned.  In future concerts, I hope they vastly improve what is shown or do away with it completely and let the music speak for itself.

Part II began on an evil note with Gannondorf’s Theme.  The basses accentuated the darkness while the keyboard produced haunting organ notes that permeated the theater.  Another highlight was Gerudo Valley which instead of speeding up the original tempo of the song, they chose to slow it down.  A crowd pleaser was perhaps the Selected Shorts Suite which contained a variety of common tunes heard throughout the Zelda franchise.  For the last song printed in the program, the Main Theme Medley fared decently as the crowd seemed to cheer at their own personal nostalgia upon listening.

As we came near the end, Koji Kondo came out on stage. Mr. Kondo played perhaps the best musical piece of the evening on piano, Grandma’s Theme from Wind Waker.  The way his fingers methodically moved from key to key with purpose and ease was memorizing.  When I closed my eyes, I only felt the feeling of the melody and it filled the theater.  He is extremely passionate about music and it was apparent in his performance.  After he was finished, Aonuma came back on stage and told the audience he wishes he could speak English and play the piano just as Mr. Kondo does.

To top off the evening was the Skyward Sword main theme.  Having heard this in many trailers as of late, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.  Surprisingly, this rendition and live performance had me do a completely 180*.  The song played right in front of you gives the song much more substance.  You feel the brass echoing the melody while the woodwinds give support for a full sound.  If you’re not a huge fan of the Skyward Sword main theme, I strongly suggest giving it a second chance with a live performance.

I will say that not all was completely perfect from the orchestra.  There seemed to be a few tempo issues scattered throughout the performance.  Also a few times I detected an instrument or two missing notes.  On the technical side, not a sound issue, but one of the harpist’s had their music stand flicker on and off, which was distracting for a time.  These weren’t truly noticeable by most in attendance, but they’re worth mentioning.  Hopefully now that Orchestra Nova has this performance under their belt, they’ll shake off the small opening night hiccups.

Although Orchestra Nova performed decent enough, their instruments didn’t seem to have proper amplification.  This made it difficult to hear certain quiet sections of a piece, even when seated near the front. It also didn’t help that the Pantages Theater doesn’t seem to be well suited to orchestral sound and lacks the reverberation that a concert hall would have.

The music selected from the Zelda franchise seemed decent overall.  Although there were games that were left out in much of it, most of the more popular fanfare was touched upon.  I feel however that their selection didn’t have purposeful flow and seemed disjointed.  There were also a few melodies that were repeated in other portions of the performance.

After the show, many once again lined up for the merchandise line and to play the demos.  There was also another line for the VIP meet and greet.  Since I had to take care of filming and a bit of photography, I didn’t manage to get in line until nearly everyone else who had the proper badge.  Those in line chatted and waited for at least an hour it seemed, with the line moving slowly.  A nice individual came to the back of the line and told us that Koji Kondo and Eiji Aonuma had left early, much to the great disappointment of everyone around.  There were still at least 100 out of the 200 VIPs still left in line.  This being opening night, I assumed they would stay and greet the fans who paid for the VIP tickets.  Fortunately not all was lost for the folks who did want to keep standing in line.  Eímear Noone, the conductor, along with a few other folks responsible for the production stayed until the last person.

Overall, I’d say while the music was quiet enjoyable, everything surrounding it was disappointing.  There seems to be work that needs to be done on this production.  It either needs to go the “classical” concert route or go to a more laid back Video Games Live style production.  This effort seemed to be in the middle of the two, which didn’t work for me.  Personally, I feel a more laid back concert might be in order considering how much cheering and applauding was done during the middle of pieces when certain segments were show on the screen.  Even with my critiques however, the fact remains that most of the individuals I spoke to afterwards, had a wonderful time.  I’d agree, but skip out on the more expensive tickets and save yourself a few dollars.

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