PLAY! A Video Game Symphony (Chicago, May 2006): Part Two Report

Following the intermission, we were treated to a very nice suite from the Elder Scrolls series, composed by Jeremy Soule. This consisted of sweeping orchestral tracks from both Morrowind and the newly-released Oblivion. I've actually played a little bit of Oblivion, and the first thing I noticed when firing it up was the excellent intro piece. I was pleased to hear it performed here in all its majesty. Roth's arrangement of the popular Chocobo theme, Swing de Chocobo was next. This arrangement made its debut at the More Friends concert last year, and was an instant hit. I can't say it blew me away the first time I heard it on the CD, but it was cool seeing it live, because Roth was so clearly "into it."

Ah, so after of waiting to hear some fully orchestrated music from the Chrono series, now was finally the time. Roth introduced the next piece by simply saying Chrono Trigger, which caused the crowd to explode. He then introduced Yasunori Mitsuda for the first time, who stood up and waived amid a standing ovation. Incidentally, every composer present received a standing ovation from at least half the crowd when they were introduced, and Mitsuda was obviously no exception. I'd waited for this moment for a long time, and this arrangement didn't disappoint in the least. It began with a beautiful solo piano rendition of Reminiscing ~Uneraseable Memory~ from Chrono Cross. It later transitioned into Frog's Theme from Chrono Trigger, before culminating with the awesome Chrono Cross ~Scars of Time~. This piece has long been one of my favorites of all time. A breathtaking combination of acoustic guitar and flute came first, with bustling percussion and strings bringing up the powerful rear. Percussionist Rony Barrak joined the fray again for this compilation, and his skill really made for an unforgettable piece. If and when they ever release a CD of this concert, this track alone would be worth the asking price, in my opinion.

By this point, the crowd was clamoring for the Legend of Zelda suite. Roth would grab the mic and say "next up is..." and someone in the crowd would shout "Zelda!" He'd consistently respond with "Not Yet!" At this point, it was time for the suite from World of Warcraft. This game is obviously very popular, judging by the response composer Jason Hayes received from the crowd when he was introduced. WoW is another game I haven't played, but I did find the suite to be very good. I wish I could go into more detail, but there were so many tracks that I just can't keep them all straight. The theme from WoW was followed by another of Roth's "surprises:" Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka came out to perform Theme of Laura on the electric guitar, accompanied by the orchestra. Yamaoka was easily the most eccentric of the composers. He came out wearing a black and burgundy leather suit, and urged on the crowd whenever he could — including during the piece. Obviously, a bit of rock really pleased the crowd, who cheered wildly as he left the stage.

After another random shout for Zelda, and another "Not Yet!" from Roth, we were treated to a superb suite from Halo, composed by Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori. Both were present for the concert, and both again received standing ovations. The choir had a very large role in this suite, though it was mostly just "oohs" and "ahhs." What struck me about this piece was how well the cellists handled the incredibly fast and jumpy string sections of the main Halo theme. You truly don't appreciate the intricacy of a piece of music until you see it performed live. When the main cello section ended, I saw a couple of them smile at each other, so I have a feeling it was rather difficult for them.

The last of Roth's "surprises" came next, when a piece from the upcoming Blue Dragon game was performed. For those who don't know, Blue Dragon has many classic Final Fantasy ties, including development from the creator of the FF series Hironobu Sakaguchi, and music from Nobuo Uematsu. The screens flashed images from the upcoming Xbox 360 title, showing what appeared to be a very young boy flying an "airship" of some sort through all manners of mortal peril. The piece of music itself didn't strike me as an instant classic, but that rarely happens on the first listen. I'll be monitoring the progress of this game quite closely in the future.

The suite from the The Legend of Zelda finally arrived next, and the place was alive with excitement. I've never personally been a big Zelda fan, though I did play through the very first game on the NES multiple times. Much like the Super Mario Bros. theme, the main theme of the original Zelda will be firmly entrenched in my mind for the rest of my life. The piece began with the tranquil music heard on the title screen for Ocarina of Time as Link rode the horse on the big screens. Before long though, it transitioned beautifully into the main theme of the original Zelda, and we were all treated to an outstanding blast from the past. The screen filled with images from the first game, and the crowd cheered loudly. I found this arrangement to really be something special. The arrangers really took a simple melody and converted it into an excellent orchestral track.

The conclusion of the show came without a lot of fanfare. Roth again thanked everyone for coming, including the performers, choir, and composers. He then said something like "Our final piece needs no introduction — enjoy One Winged Angel!" The decibel levels reached fever heights, and the ominous opening of the popular Final Fantasy VII track began. The orchestra, choir, and especially Roth really poured their heart and soul into this one. They clearly wanted to end the show with a bang. Of course, they succeeded. When the piece was complete, everyone was on their feet. Roth exited the stage, and the crowd remained standing and cheering. He came back and left a second time, but the concert veterans knew the show wasn't over. There's always an encore. Sure enough, he returned a third time as if to say "okay, okay!" He raised his arms, and about a third of the orchestra began playing "One Winged Angel" again. At first I thought they had a new arrangement of it or something, but Roth quickly stopped them all by waiving his arms. I thought this might be a joke, but obviously the orchestra really didn't know they were supposed to play it again. I was hoping for something completely new to end the show, but we got to hear "One Winged Angel" again. But hey, that's better than nothing!

When the piece was complete, another long standing ovation ensued, but the lights were back on. That was the end. No one could possibly complain though — it was after 11:00 PM when the concert finally concluded. 3+ hours of pure video game music bliss, and most of the music was newly arranged and never-before heard. It was truly a concert for the ages!