My experience with the 2012 tour was nothing short of incredible. I’ll do my best to explain what I witnessed and heard with unbridled fervor.
When the 2012 tour was first announced, I knew I was going. I started talking about it with friends many months in advance, and although everyone seemed to like entertaining the notion of attending, none of the announced locations were really close in terms of distance. I had it resolved that I would attend regardless, so I planned on attending a concert in either Texas or Florida. Luckily, a new batch of dates and locations was later released, so Pittsburgh quickly became a far more alluring option. The vicissitudes of life were anything but scant after the new dates were released, so just 3 weeks ago, I found myself still contemplating attending without having taken any action towards purchasing tickets. As I was finally about to buy a ticket and attend by myself, a friend decided that he was going to be in the area and that he would drive down to Pittsburgh to meet me at the concert. Since the event was only weeks away, I didn’t really expect to find stellar seats. Surprisingly, I was assigned two seats in the third or fourth row of the right orchestra section. However, because I forgot to enter the Club Nintendo promotional code giving 15% off of ticket prices for the event, I had to release my tickets and try again. This time however, I received even better seats: middle of the first row in the center orchestra. Needless to say, I was ecstatic.
My friend and I decided to meet several hours early, grab dinner, scope out the surrounding area of the city, and then attend the concert without being rushed. After an extremely long drive I managed to get through rush hour traffic with a couple hours to spare. My friend was not so fortunate and ended up arriving 10 minutes before the concert started.
So after grabbing a bite to eat, I found myself with much time to make use of. I explored the streets for a bit but it was far too hot, especially in a suit, so I decided to go to Heinz Hall, home of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and venue for the evening. While I was seemingly the first to show up, I was soon followed by a sporadic influx of what were obviously Zelda fans and attendees of the concert. Over the next hour and half, I witnessed a great diversity of people arrive at the Hall. Although I was excited for the concert, I was equally excited to mingle and experience what was about to be my first official and intense foray into interacting with the Zelda community in real-life at a non-entry release event.
Unexpectedly, the crowd was…an interesting mix. I noticed several prominent groups of attendees (let me preface this by saying that these are obviously my own personal opinions of what I saw, and while bias was inherent in my judgment, I made sure to let the entire evening proceed to completion before finalizing my thoughts as objectively as possible):
1.) Zelda fans still in their teenage years , or even younger still – the youngest of which were obviously accompanied by a parent/guardian, and the more adolescent of which clung to their friends and did their best to fit into such a formal venue without feeling awkward or having to contemplate silence unbroken by superficial conversation. Some of this latter group was fun to interact with and the energy and excitement for the event was clear in the conversations I had. Most of these attendees were garbed in some sort of Zelda-related clothing. I saw several black t-shirts emblazoned with a shimmering gold Hylian crest, several shirts that appeared to have come from online sites that sell fan-made designs on a weekly basis (my favorite was one that said “Make it rain” and then had a musical staff with notes for the Song of Storms), and several shirts that seemed like they were promotional items for individual Zelda titles (they simply featured game logos). The other half of this group of attendees was socially awkward enough to make me extremely aware that I was currently existent in the same room as them and that we were attending the same event. Maybe they’ve had too much Zelda, if that’s at all possible.
2.) Hard-core Zelda fans/stereotypical videogame nerds – when I say hardcore I mean in terms of outwardly expressing their passion for the series, not necessarily their knowledge of it. The most hardcore were donned in what would have made any cosplayer proud – fairly accurate replications of Link with hairstyle, tunic, sword, shield, gloves, boots, and pants to match. The stereotypical nerds reminded me of the “Make Love, Not Warcraft” episode from South Park. They looked like they had been sitting in a chair playing videogames for many, many years. And some of them smelled. Not in a good way.
3.) Adult fans - The most official of attire was on a man I met who was donning a black silk tie with a nice and simple design of the Triforce. I spoke with him and his wife (she bought it for him) for several minutes and then began to realize how special the evening was for both of them as mutual Zelda fans in marriage. Another notable observation was a family dressed in matching green shirts. The husband and wife had what must have been a five or six year old kid and it was nice seeing the ingraining starting so early. Other couples were not so congruent. There were quite a few women who looked like they had been dragged along by their boyfriend/husband, although none of them seemed bored or disgusted by the display of fandom. Which brings me to the next group.
4.) Women – gamers were stereotypically viewed as male until the past decade or so in which it has become more and more socially acceptable for females to embrace their gamer side. This was exponentiated by the advent of the Wii and the “casual” gaming era that was since ushered, making it commonplace to see gamers of all ages and genders. In all honesty, the mix of men and women at the concert was nearly 50:50.
5.) Regular season ticket-holders – they appeared by far and away to be the eldest demographic and their worldly experience and lack of videogame knowledge was profoundly evident by their dress, the way they carried themselves, and their total nonplus about Zelda in general.
Having read a fair amount of reviews of not only the premiere events from 2011, but this year’s 2012 tour as well, I knew that certain limited edition merchandise was going to be available for sale. Doors opened at 7PM and there were two items available: a poster with the concert emblem, and a black t-shirt with the concert emblem on the front and the Triforce on the left sleeve. The poster sold for $15, the t-shirt for $25, and both as a bundle for $35. These items differed from what was sold last year in several ways. First, as I mentioned earlier, last year’s t-shirts were apparently also offered in a white variant. Next, there were 3 posters offered last year for $10 each. From what I’ve seen, none of the posters from last year boasted original artwork. Some was official artwork from games while the rest looked like art seen in pamphlets or Club Nintendo Gold/Platinum member exclusive specials. At the bottom of these 3 posters, there is a gold section with the 25th anniversary logo in the center. The poster at this particular 2012 event solely displayed the franchise logo and the symphony emblem. In my opinion, this makes it more unique and memorable. Lines started forming for merchandise right from the minute doors opened, and sales continued throughout the rest of the evening.
Heinz Hall itself is a very nice establishment and the inside is beautifully crafted. Apparently the seating is very close together, something that many find distasteful, but honestly, I didn’t really notice it that much. Because I had front row seats, I had a clear view of the stage and all the musicians throughout the entire evening. The orchestra was set up centered around the conductor’s stand in the middle, with the choir at the back. The conductor’s stand was covered in a gold cloth that ended in a triangular point at the floor. In the center of the cloth was the Hylian crest. Above the stage was a large screen that had the symphony logo it was used throughout the evening to either convey a switch between the four main symphonic movements, or to show “iconic moments” from the franchise.
Before I review the footage shown and its integration with the symphony, let me first introduce the key players of the evening and the format of the event.
As mentioned earlier, this performance was done by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. They had just done the same event 2 nights earlier in Philadelphia, and they performed it for a third and final time on Saturday night. From my understanding, while the concert is touring across the nation, the orchestra is not. Thus, each event is performed by different orchestras local to the specific area, and this trio of events in PA is the only multiple-event thus far for a single location. Yet while the musicians differ from event to event, the conductor stays the same. Enter Eímear Noone. Her experience with videogame music is extensive, and for a non-gamer, she certainly came across as enthusiastic and gracious for having the opportunity to conduct the magnificent soundtrack of such a phenomenal franchise.
Although Noone did not bring a gamer perspective to the table, one of the producers, unfortunately, did. Jeron Moore. Alright, this is where I can’t really objectify my thoughts. This guy bothered me. And it took me the whole evening to really realize what it was about him that irked me. His role in the event was pretty minimal – he introduced the symphony and the first two movements. He reappeared after intermission and introduced the last two movements, and then he appeared again to introduce the three encore performances. So his stage time was brief. But man did this guy make an impression. All I can say is while Noone brought sophistication, professionalism, and elegance to the performance, Moore brought the nerd/gamer inflection. A lot of my observations were only possible because I was in the front row and literally 4 or 5 feet away from Noone and Moore, but they were part of my experience, so I’m going to detail them nonetheless. Noone and the rest of the orchestra’s musicians were professionally dressed in either tuxedos, suits, or other formal attire. Moore was dressed in a suit but it didn’t look too pressed. He kept his left hand in his pocket for every moment he was on stage, and he kept leaning forward when he was talking, shifting his weight to his toes. This combined with his poor elocution made it seem like he had never addressed a crowd of such a scale before. Noone introduced him as “the biggest Zelda fan she knows,” and I can’t say I have any reason to doubt her assessment. He spoke in short sentences that never actually directly stated anything. For example (and I’ll explain the movements in detail soon), he described the opening as something like “delving into the darkest dungeons of Hyrule, we’ll then take a break at Kakariko Village for some nice rest”, etc. I’m not saying that this wasn’t effective (the audience didn’t seemed to mind) but I do want to point out that his clippy descriptions where he would pause and we would almost be forced to applaud so he would continue with his description, coupled with his other nervous mannerisms, really detracted from the professionalism/sophistication of the evening and made me kind of feel like I was having a conversation with someone who thinks he’s a hardcore Zelda fan because he played Ocarina of Time in 1998. From what I gathered, he was portrayed as sort of the directive force of the vision behind the acoustics and footage shown.
The opening “Overture” was a nice montage of musical selections from the series and represented each of the symphonic movements of the evening. It was after this that Moore entered and introduced the subsequent sampling of songs to “whet our appetite a bit”.
The whole sequence of musical arrangements for the evening was as follows:
2. Dungeons/Kakariko Village/Songs of the Hero
(Sun’s Song, Song of Time, Serenade of Water,, Song of Healing, Song of Storms)
3. The Creation of Hyrule
4. Movement I: Ocarina of Time
5. Movement II: The Wind Waker
6. Fairy Fountain
7. Movement III: Twilight Princess
8. Movement IV: A Link to the Past
9. Encore 1: Ballad of the Windfish
10. Encore 2: Gerudo Valley
11. Encore 3: Suite from Majora’s Mask
The titles I’ve provided are the titles as presented by Noone and Moore, but what was interesting as a front row spectator was that I had a full view of the smaller video screen at Noone’s feet that was keeping track of measures/timing and showing the video footage. Some of the aforementioned items were not titled as I listed but instead by what I think was more along the lines of how each of the games was temporally described as positioned in the grand timeline unveiled in Hyrule Historia (I feel like knowledge of Hyrule Historia has become a new gauge of the knowledge of a Zelda fan. When conversing with people in real life, asking the question “have you seen the official timeline?” has become something along the lines of asking “how much can you bench?” in determining the intensity behind Zelda passion and recent knowledge. Thus, if Moore had a role in the titles, I guess I’m mildly impressed). That brief aside aside, I’ve gone ahead and linked YouTube videos of the tracks from the Symphony Orchestra CD that came with Skyward Sword last year (if you really want to hear what was played at the concerts just YouTube it. Sound quality obviously won’t be what it was like live, so I recommend the CD instead). I didn’t know this but apparently Noone conducted those as well. Having heard the tracks countless times already, I had a fairly good idea of what music to expect, but I was still pleasantly surprised. I could explain how each Movement was performed, but I’m no music expert/critic so rather than use repetitive and overly flowery imagery and metaphors to convey what I heard, I direct you to the YouTube videos. The tracks from last year’s CD are almost identical to what was heard live, except that obviously the live version was much better and had a little bit more diversity to it.
The footage that was continuously streaming was of “iconic” (I use quotes because obviously each person’s interpretation of what was iconic to them is something personal and unique) and was largely from cut-scenes and boss battles. Especially against Ganondorf and Ganon/Gannon. It was quite tastefully done and the video segments matched up nicely with the highs and lows and intensity of the orchestra.
I read reviews from last year’s premiere events saying that people in the audience were crying throughout the concert. While I wasn’t necessarily skeptical of what must have been a spectacle, I empathized more after experiencing the concert myself. The Overture nearly brought me to tears and I could feel them welling up in my eyes throughout the first two movements. The orchestra brought some of great moments of the Zelda franchise to life in an inexplicable way. During the final battle against Ganondorf for the second movement, I honestly felt like I was Link facing off in battle as Hyrule was drowning from the ocean overhead. There were also some moments of comedic relief such as when the audience burst out laughing after seeing a montage of clips showing Link slashing away at Cuccoos only to subsequently get destroyed by the massive onslaught that followed.
Speaking of audience reaction, I was very pleased to find that the participation for the evening was almost nonexistent. The premiere events apparently were regularly punctuated by applause and yelling every several minutes when people would recognize a theme or their favorite game. Luckily there was none of this until the third encore, and the reaction in my opinion was highly warranted. More on that in a minute.
The whole symphony was incredibly powerful because of the significance the franchise has had in my life. I have been playing Zelda games since I was kid, have spent countless hours online reading articles, speculating, theorizing, and interacting with community members, and have maintained this site since 2003. I have played the games countless times to the point where I have Ocarina of Time and many portions of many of the other games memorized. Heck, I think I unintentionally even did a pseudo-speedrun once. What came sweeping back to me throughout the evening were the experiences I’ve had with the games. I’ve said it before in previous posts, and I’ll say it again. The franchise to me is special because I feel immersed in the world and because so many positive emotions get attached to certain moments, characters, music titles, and locations. What came seeping back to me throughout the evening was a lifetime of Zelda and fun. I can’t even imagine how some of the older fans in crowd must have felt. Those decades older than me who are married, have a family, have kids, and still made it out to experience the symphony tour. It was a powerful night for Zelda fans in attendance. Conversely, I feel like so much of the video footage and amazing aspects of Kondo’s work were only fully appreciated by people who have played the games. I have no idea what the season ticket holders must have thought of the evening – of the fans, the music, and the appreciation for the event.
I was surprised to see references to the Oracle games, and what took me back the most from the very beginning of the concert in “Dungeons” was the Light World dungeon theme from ALTTP.
After the first movement concluded, Noone addressed the crowd in what she described as a rare occurrence for a conductor. Apparently there is usually no break between the first two movements of a symphony performance, but she had very good reason to do so. As you know (hopefully) the entire premise of The Wind Waker was centered on a magical baton that allows Link to control the power of the wind in concert with music. Noone said that as a conductor, she was fascinated that a videogame and so many fans could be excited about a baton. And so, to make the second movement more special, she unclothed a replica of the Windwaker baton and conducted the entire second movement with that.
After intermission, Moore appeared again to explain the final two movements. From what I’ve read online, these two movements were not present in the premiere events. Moore referenced the official timeline and seemed to suggest that the only reason ALTTP was selected was because it chronologically follows Twilight Princess. Yeah, or maybe it’s just one of the more iconic games in the franchise (for so many reasons, maybe I’ll do that justice another time).
My favorite moment from this second half definitely was when the Dark World theme began playing. Ever since I discovered the Sound & Drama CD many years ago, the orchestrated Dark World theme has been my favorite orchestrated Zelda piece of all time.
Each of the four movements was 10 minutes or less in duration, so I knew there had to be more coming after the conclusion of IV. Of course, I had also read that the Gerudo Valley rendition was an encore at every performance so I wasn’t expecting to be surprised when they unveiled that as the finale. But surprised I was. After a standing ovation, Encore 1: Ballad of the Windfish, caught me completely off guard. It just seemed like such an odd choice to end on because although it was beautifully performed, it lacked the overall intensity of the final two movements. However, as a fan, I did appreciate how Link’s Awakening received its own piece. After another standing ovation, Noone left the stage. Then Moore brought her back out and awkwardly gave her a half-hug and she proceeded to conducted Encore 2: Gerudo Valley. In my opinion, this was the most epic portion of the night. Not because the original Gerudo Valley theme is so classic and memorable, but because I really like the extra music that was created for the symphonic rendition. The opening is so grand and powerful. If there’s only one piece from last year’s CD that you listen to, let it be Gerudo Valley. After this, I was definitely expecting the evening to conclude. I think everyone else was as well. But then Moore brought out Chad Seiter, the man who did the music arrangements and helped with the orchestrations that we heard. He mentioned that they had really listened to fan feedback from the concerts performed earlier in the year, and it seemed like the number one thing fans wanted was music from Majora’s Mask. So they went back to the drawing board and created a whole suite for it. Moore went on to trip over his own words and poorly articulate how the evening was going to end on a dark and sinister note, and then the audience was graced with the last piece of the evening, Encore 3: Suite from Majora’s Mask. As soon as it started, fans erupted into applause and cheering. I thought it was very cool that they took fan demand into consideration and adjusted the performance accordingly. After a final standing ovation, the lights came back on, credits started rolling on the video screen, and the concert concluded.
All in all it was an unforgettable experience. As I left Heinz Hall, I explained to my friend that although the fact that we had just spent over 2 hours of our lives listening to Zelda music played by a symphony orchestra should have been weird, it felt so natural. It’s 2012. An entire tour dedicated to a videogame is being conducted across the nation by the greatest national symphony orchestras. The same musicians who play classical music composed by the likes of Beethoven and Bach were playing Kondo’s Zelda music. It was an orchestra concert for a videogame! How often does that happen?! Almost never. But at the same time, it felt perfectly reasonable. It’s 2012. Why not have concerts for an incredibly popular and successful videogame franchise? I guess that just goes to show how powerful and loved The Legend of Zelda series really is. If you haven’t already experienced one of the concerts yourself, check and see if there’s one coming to a venue near you. At the very least, give the Symphony orchestra concert CD from 2011 a listen on YouTube. You won’t be disappointed.
7/29/2012; 12:30 AM; InformeroftheSages