A Night in Fantasia 2009 (Sydney, September 2009): Concert Report
On September 26, 2009, the concert A Night in Fantasia 2009 occurred at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in Australia. It featured orchestral performances of a wide range of animes and games in what intended to be a definitive interactive musical experience. It was actually my first orchestra experience, but the content material and special guests really appealed to me. To my surprise the concert was split into two parts with a 20 minute break in-between. While 20 pieces were performed, the show lasted about four hours including the break, but excluding the hour-long autograph event. Though there were a few moments that didn't personally appeal, the whole event left me feeling awe-inspired and starstruck overall.
The first half of the concert featured mostly continuous performances with very little MC. I actually missed the concert opening due to certain circumstances, but not by much. While I was curious to hear Red Alert 3, I'll hold out hope that it will be in the album release in December instead. When I got in, Wataru Hokoyama was actually in the middle of conducting only the second piece: Laputa. It was the first part of the Ghibli set he led, followed by My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke. It was certainly a emotional experience, blending Joe Hisaishi's unforgettable melodies with Hokoyama's stellar orchestration and conducting.
After a short MC with Chris Velasco, Eminence began the game set. It was remarkable to hear Velasco's own Darksiders be performed since the game isn't actually out till 2010. I think exclusive preview made A Night of Fantasia 2009 more special and the score itself seems quite promising. Subsequently, the Eminence Symphony Orchestra recounted more familiar ground with God of War II, complete with the series' characteristic epic orchestral pomp, and Soul Calibur IV, which was originally recorded by Eminence. I actually wasn't familiar with these works previously, but they were nevertheless quite emotional and I felt their presentation fitted well in the concert.
The subsequent anime set rang more bells to me. Famed anime composer and orchestrator Shiro Hamaguchi offered nostalgic arrangements of Astro Boy and Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. I felt even more at home with the performances of Yuki Kajiura's "Song of Storm and Fire" of Tsubasa Chronicle. Finally, Ace Combat V closed part one with a rendition of Keiki Kobayashi's climactic theme for orchestra and chorus. The Eminence Symphony Orchestra perfectly recreated the bittersweet feelings with their momentous performance.
The second half of the concert was the better half in my personal opinion. It provided all the good reasons I bothered flying from Melbourne — the guests. It was reopened with a bang with Yuji Kajiura's Death Note and I once again felt in awe of what Eminence managed to pull off. Wataru Hokoyama subsequently returned to the stage again to mention the unforgettable average Aussie morning and his desire to touch a koala! Hokoyama subsequently conducted his award-winning Afrika. It was admittedly really beautiful and mesmerising, so it's easy to see why the score won so many awards.
Perhaps the most famous guest of the evening, Yasunori Mitsuda came to the stage shortly before the third instalment. He looked really young and strangely familiar. He expressed gratitude to be invited again, though he could only stay for 24 hours. Chrono Cross was a fan favourite as always. Hayato Matsuo undertook the challenge of transforming "Radical Dreamers" — once just a vocal and acoustic guitar piece — into a fully fledged orchestral piece. Fortunately, he had the modesty to retain the sentimental feel and Celtic flavour of the original. I'm pleased to hear this arrangement will feature in the CD.
Inon Zur subsequently came to the stage to oversee performances of two of his scores. He specially adapted his work for the yet-to-be-released Dragon Age: Origins and Prince of Persia for the concert. Both games were awfully violent. I must complain that the videos on screen did lessen my enjoyment — I want my music without looking at blood splattering from anyone's neck. That said, the former was quite emotional with the use of vocalist Aubrey Ashburn, even if Persia didn't do much for me and sounded similar to other items in the concert.
Next was the much-loved Shadow of the Colossus. It reunited two artists — the great Ko Otani on the piano and AIKA on vocals — following their collaborations in the pop-rock unit Hyper Little Toys. Otani's anime album Hanenone is one of my all time favourites, but Colossus was different. It was grandiose, energetic, and the final blow gave AIKA lots of respect. During the MC, Otani was eccentric with his word choices, saying things such as "full of energy like the sun". He said the piece was rearranged backwards from the whole soundtrack with the final part being totally new. It was definitely one of the most artistic additions to the album and one of the pinnacle collaborations between composer and vocalist.
Then finally came THE iDOLM@STER. Looking gorgeous in her graceful evening gown, Chiaki Takahashi perfectly represented the character Azusa with her purple dress. The MCing was the liveliest, since Chiaking was far from nervous and composer Go Shiina was just equally crazy. "Tonari Ni" was originally a melodious piece with hefty instruments, so I don't think the orchestra arrangement surprised most fans. The song just turned noticeably slower and with more dramatic pitch. However, a surprise came about 4:30 down since there was a transition from Japanese to English lyrics that lasted for a minute until the song ended. It was a bit awkward at first, but I think Takahashi did a great job with the pronounciation despite her lack of experience speaking English.
Up next was a video from Steve Jablonsky with apologies he couldn't make it down here. Transformers fans must have been crying! Gears of War 2 closed the concert and proved a strange yet popular choice. However, instead of leaving the stage, the performers put on black bandana and voila we received a Snake parade and an encore. Now the Metal Gear Solid main theme was the perfect blow to end the show. It combined Eminence's characteristic flair for bombastic themes with one of the most memorable melodies in game music.
Selected tracks from A Night in Fantasia 2009 will be released on CD in December. There will be some omissions, such as THE IDOLM@STER, Gears of War II, and Metal Gear Solid. Nonetheless, I pre-ordered it given the music was indeed worthy, there will still be plenty of items, and there's even a DVD bonus for me to remain hopeful about. Anyway, A Night of Fantasia 2009 was the best local experience I had. It was fabulous collaboration between composers, arrangers, conductors, and performers that commemorated a range of emotional anime scores and epic game productions. I'm already anticipating A Night of Fantasia 2010 — I'm already wishing Shiina to return for say... "Aoi Tori"?!
Special thanks to Danie for allowing us to host this report. For those who would like to read more from her, she runs a blog dedicated to animes, seiyuus, and J-Pop music here. Look out for more news concerning the concert album in the near future.