Thomas Boecker Interview: Producing Symphonic Fantasies (January 2009)
On September 12, 2009, the concert Symphonic Fantasies will occur at the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne, Germany. In this interview with its producer Thomas Boecker, he exclusively reveals that the concert will be a definitive musical tribute to Square Enix's famous titles.
The interview also contains many other details about the concert. Boecker gives information about the arrangements, performances, and guest attendees. He also talks about how the concert compares to last year's massively acclaimed Symphonic Shades. Tickets for this one-time event have gone on sale here and are expected to sell out shortly.
Chris: First of all, thank you for talking to us exclusively today. Could you introduce the concert to us and tell us some more about the basic details?
Thomas Boecker: Symphonic Fantasies is a concert tribute to video game music from Square Enix. The concert will be performed on September 12, 2009 by the WDR Radio Orchestra, WDR Radio Choir, and several soloists, conducted by Arnie Roth. We are glad to have more than 120 professional musicians on stage again, this time at the beautiful 2,000+ venue Philharmonic Hall in Cologne, Germany.
Chris: Going from performing the music of Chris Huelsbeck in Symphonic Shades to the soundtracks of Square Enix in Symphonic Fantasies is certainly a big change. What inspired your decision to dedicate this concert to Square Enix? Also, why did you choose a company rather than a single composer this time?
Thomas Boecker: Back in 2007, I met with Mr Winfried Fechner, the manager of the WDR Radio Orchestra, to agree on and to confirm three concerts featuring video game music. It was really exciting, needless to say, and I presented several concepts to him. Right from the beginning it was clear that the WDR would love to do such concerts. However, they had to be unique and they had to be different from other events.
We decided to do PROMS in 2008 firstly, a concert with a mix of classic music and video game music such as Final Fantasy and Castlevania. It was a test, as it was the first time that the WDR Radio Orchestra performed video game music in a concert. It worked out very well, and everybody got even more excited about the planned follow-ups. The second concert was dedicated to one composer — Chris Huelsbeck. Certainly I do not have to go more into detail, but it is safe to say that Symphonic Shades was a huge success.
The third was meant to be dedicated to a game developer / publisher and the decision for Square Enix was no difficult one. The company is known for amazing video game music. In September 2008 I went to Japan for a few weeks and I also met with Square Enix. I told them about our idea of Symphonic Fantasies and that the WDR would like to honour their music in an exclusive concert.
Chris: There's a lot of music that could possibly be featured in Symphonic Fantasies. Will focus be on beloved themes from Final Fantasy titles? What other scores will be featured?
Thomas Boecker: There is so much of great music from Square Enix indeed. It is a difficult task to choose titles, no question, but of course it would be impossible to feature everything in the one concert that we have. We will perform 70+ minutes of music, and for that we decided for the Final Fantasy series, the Kingdom Hearts series, the Mana series, and the Chrono series. All are pretty well-known in Germany and offer enough musical variety to entertain and to surprise; not limited to video game music enthusiasts only, but also to people who like orchestral music in general.
Chris: Symphonic Fantasies will mainly commemorate Square's classic SNES and PlayStation scores. However, is it possible recent or new music from the company could be included?
Thomas Boecker: Everything is possible, basically. At this moment we are researching, discussing and choosing. For Symphonic Fantasies we are in contact with the original composers who told us about their favorite titles. Our decisions will be, of course, also based on fan favorites and on how the music works in the context of the concert. For us it is important to present the music in a way that showcases the character, the mood, and the atmosphere of the games in the best possible way, to make it an unforgettable evening for the audience.
I cannot go too much into detail at this point, but the way of how we will present the music is going to be different from other video game concerts.
Chris: It's been announced that Jonne Valtonen is the arranger for Symphonic Fantasies. How will he approach the arrangements for this title and how long will he work on this project?
Thomas Boecker: It is hard to put in words how excited I am to have him doing all these arrangements! What he did for Symphonic Shades brought him a lot of praise from fans, the media, and from the WDR Radio Orchestra.
Jonne Valtonen will study the original music very, very carefully. This is what he did with Symphonic Shades as well: finding out what the original composers tried to express, what they felt when doing the compositions within the context of the games, etc. He will have full six months for his work, and he will be spending all his time on the arrangements. We are very proud that we have such amazing conditions for producing our concerts!
Chris: In large part because of Chris Huelsbeck's originals, Symphonic Shades was often described as a brassy action-packed concert. Given Square Enix's music is so different, what sort of tones and themes do you think will represent Symphonic Fantasies?
Thomas Boecker: It will be very varied. We have chosen these four series with great care. Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Mana, and Chrono all sound different, so the approach on each arrangement will be different, too. As mentioned already, we will have several soloists supporting us, such as percussionist Rony Barrak, pianist Benyamin Nuss, and a few more to be announced at a later point. So there is no fear that the music could sound too similar. It will be quite a journey through different music styles!
Chris: In Symphonic Shades, Valtonen had almost unlimited freedom to offer creative arrangements. Will he have similar freedom on Symphonic Fantasies or are there likely to be more limits?
Thomas Boecker: The original composers agreed on giving Jonne Valtonen free-hand for his work, but no fan has to worry: the original image of the music is not going to be changed. Our goal is to capture the original mood of the games — to bring back the good feelings people had when playing the games at home. Non-gamers will also enjoy the high quality of the music.
Chris: The diverse and complex arrangements of Symphonic Fantasies sound difficult to perform. Are Arnie Roth and the WDR Radio Orchestra up for the challenge once again?
Thomas Boecker: We will have a very good amount of rehearsal time, even more than we had for Symphonic Shades. You hardly can find such conditions in the world of video game music concerts. I would even go so far to say that Symphonic Fantasies will have the biggest amount of rehearsal time ever.
Furthermore, the WDR Radio Orchestra is a stunning ensemble, one of the best I ever worked with, so I have not the slightest concern that there might be problems. Same as for Symphonic Shades, it is the combination of original music/arrangement quality, amount of rehearsal time, and orchestra quality that make the WDR productions outstanding.
Chris: Now that you've confirmed guest performers, are there likely to be other guest arrangers as well?
Thomas Boecker: Jonne Valtonen will be the person in charge of everything. I trust him 100%, and the way we are approaching Symphonic Fantasies makes it a requirement to be handled by one arranger.
Chris: Your past concerts have been made even more memorable thanks to the attendance of special guests. Is it possible some famous Square Enix composers could attend Symphonic Fantasies too? Might there even be a meet and greet?
Thomas Boecker: We are going to make a few announcements later, but yes — I can officially confirm that three famous composers will be in attendance. And yes, there will be a Meet and Greet, probably before the actual concert starts, that will be free of charge. More details will be announced shortly.
Chris: Thanks once again for talking to us today. Do you have any final words to say about the concert?
Thomas Boecker: I would like to take the chance to thank everybody who supported our concerts over all the years. I hardly can believe that it is now six years that we started to do video game music events! Symphonic Fantasies will be the biggest production on this field that we ever did, so if you enjoyed our previous concerts, please come to Cologne on September 12, 2009. It is going to be a fantastic night!
Tickets for Symphonic Fantasies will go on sale on Saturday January 17 here. Prices range from 6 EUR to 30 EUR so should be very affordable. Young people, students, and certain other groups are eligible to half price tickets.