Orchestral Pieces from Lost Odyssey & Blue Dragon (Tokyo, November 2007)
With the announcement back in October that Microsoft would be presenting a concert featuring Nobuo Uematsu's music from Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, many fans experienced a combination of excitement and curiosity. Many changes have occurred since Uematsu visited the Bunkamura Orchard Hall two years ago with the Tour de Japon series, including the launch of his own record label, Dog Ear Records, and fans were wondering how an Uematsu concert would fare without the inclusion of his work from Final Fantasy.
The concert event took place on the evening of November 19, and once inside, attendees were treated to demos of Lost Odyssey at kiosks sprinkled throughout the lobby, which was an unexpected treat considering the game isn't due out in Japan until December 6. This also allowed attendees to preview the music that would be heard during the performance. Additionally, there were merchandise booths selling peripherals such as the Blue Dragon Original Soundtrack and Lost Odyssey novels. Unfortunately there wasn't a Lost Odyssey soundtrack available then, but this changed in January.
Once attendees filled into the concert hall itself, the evening commenced with a traditional press conference. Legendary producer Hironobu Sakaguchi, story writer Kiyoshi Shigematsu, and composer Nobuo Uematsu took to the stage to discuss Lost Odyssey along with a gameplay demonstration. Uematsu's traditional Japanese attire was now solidified with an embroidered red Dog Ear Records emblem on the back, and the presentation also featured the voice actors from the game. As the press spent over ten minutes in paparazzi fashion with the special guests, the audience was growing impatient, and one could hear Uematsu playfully teasing, "Soon... just wait!"
The actual concert began shortly after. While music from both Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey has been featured at other concerts around the world, from Italy to the United States, this was the first time the selected titles were showcased as the main attraction. All the music was composed by Nobuo Uematsu and arranged by Hiroyuki Nakayama. While there was no means of amplification in the hall, the raw sound of the Japanese Philharmonic Orchestra was a sound to behold. The acoustics were fantastic, providing a rich resonance from anywhere within the nearly sold-out venue. Surprisingly, the screens positioned above the stage played very little game footage, but the in-game cinematics that were shown were streamlined perfectly with the emotional content of the music. For the majority of the time, the screens focused primarily on the musicians and the Orchestral Pieces logo.
The Blue Dragon segment of the performance was flawless. My favorite piece was "Cave," which I have been a fan of from my first listen on the soundtrack. It can be described as a haunting, fluid, and somber waltz. Combined with the cut scenes of the characters in a spaceship, it imparted a feeling of serenity when listening. Another highlight was "A Smiling Face," which featured a different arrangement than what was heard on the soundtrack. The clarinet and flute performances in particular were warm and inviting, and definitely a standout. "Army of the Holy Sword," on the other hand, gave everyone in the audience a stir with its bombastic approach, creating a cacophony of sound that was thrilling and powerful all at once.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for: the music from Lost Odyssey. Uematsu admitted that he was nervous about performing music from the game before it had even been released, but in retrospect, the music from the game is classic Uematsu right down the core. The segment started with the main theme, introducing the audience to the world of Lost Odyssey with a beautiful aria. "Neverending Journey" sounded strikingly similar to music from Lawrence of Arabia with a dramatic, ethnic-sounding march. The percussion and trumpets were bright and bold, and really took center stage. While everyone got a taste of "A Mighty Enemy Appears" during the press conference portion of the event, it was even more enjoyable when performed by the live orchestra. The brass led the charge, backed by well-implemented violin strokes that created a suspenseful listening experience.
Two vocal songs, "Eclipse Of Time" and "What You Are" followed next. "Eclipse Of Time" was a soothing lullaby with a soft, motherly tone. While Uematsu has had a lot of experience composing vocal tracks for various Final Fantasy scores, I would say that I didn't feel these songs flowed as well contrary his previous efforts. The in-game vocals are sung in English by Sheena Easton, but attendees were in for a treat as the vocals were performed in Japanese exclusively for this performance. Uematsu noted, "If you're secretly filming, please upload it on YouTube," which drew chuckles from the crowd. After the vocal-driven performances, the audience patiently waited for an encore, which was an arrangement of "Waterside" for piano and orchestra. This actually sounded almost identical to the soundtrack version, and was a pleasure to hear live.
Overall, I would say the concert was a success, and I found myself thoroughly satisfied. Attendees were each handed a free tote bag branded with Orchestral Pieces on their way out, which was icing on the cake. It was wonderful to hear the music from Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey with the full lush sound that only a world class orchestra can provide. Again, the acoustics in the hall were fantastic and the high quality of Uematsu's compositions was only enhanced more by the orchestra. With the release date for Lost Odyssey set for February in North America, there is something to look forward to, even if Orchestral Pieces doesn't make it to the US. Many may want to check out Lost Odyssey for some great new music from Uematsu, who has proven that he is still at the top of his game.