Final Fantasy concert rewards gamers

Longtime composer attached to lauded Square franchise brings his "Dear Friends" musical event to San Francisco; Nobuo Uematsu soaks up the limelight.


SAN FRANCISCO--Following a successful debut in Chicago, the concert series "Dear Friends: Music From Final Fantasy" made its way to Nob Hill's Masonic Auditorium last night. Game Developers Conference (GDC) attendees and local video game music enthusiasts alike were treated to orchestral arrangements of various songs from the Final Fantasy series, originally composed by Nobuo Uematsu (who was in attendance).

The concert coincided with the beginning of the GDC, where Uematsu will be speaking on March 9.

The concert included such favorites as Final Fantasy VI's "Terra's Theme," Final Fantasy VII's "Aeris' Theme," and Final Fantasy VIII's "Love Grows," as well as music from the upcoming movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Specially arranged by Uematsu himself, the musical arrangements were complemented by a series of video clips chosen from the games the music was drawn from. The cutscenes were shown on screens overhead.

Led by Grammy award-winning conductor Arnie Roth, who also conducted the Chicago debut, the Symphony Silicon Valley and San Jose State University Chorale gave an impressive performance, doing justice to the popularity of Final Fantasy's music.

Notable performances were delivered by the lead oboist and flutists, who nailed every solo, most noticeably the haunting melody from "Love Grows." The harpist did justice to music paired with the Prelude of the Final Fantasy I-III medley, and the trumpet drew an appreciative laugh from the audience when it broke into the Chocobo theme later in the piece.

The audience was obviously receptive to the performance, with long, drawn-out applauses following each piece. When the camera focused on Nobuo Uematsu going to his seat just at the end of the intermission, the crowd burst into a standing ovation. The audience even cheered the Mistress of Ceremonies (the official designation), who seemed awkwardly out of place, making comments like "This will probably be the first time you can use video game music to get a girl to fall in love with you" and various other statements lifted almost straight from the Los Angeles concert at The Walt Disney Concert Hall.

In fact, her performance seemed to highlight one of the problems with the performance--a number of people involved in the performance apparently didn't know much about video games in general, and that would include Final Fantasy in particular. The various clips that were played were often haphazardly chosen and had little relevance to the music. One notable example was "Aeris' Theme" juxtaposed with a video of Sephiroth tearing off the head of Jenova. While it was nice imagery with an action sequence, it had no real relevance to the song. Another was the "Love Grows" video, which consisted of a random selection of FMVs taken from Final Fantasy VIII, some of which were appropriate to this reporter, but many of which were not.

In addition, the lighting effects were problematic much of the time, with the lighting often causing the musicians to look digitized when they showed up on the overhead screens. Too often the colors were distracting rather than enhancing. An attempt was made to create a starlike effect by shining light through holes in the wall surrounding the video screens, but it came off as tacky as it was ambient, bringing to mind a high school production rather than a sophisticated orchestral performance.

But these were only minor complaints, and all was forgiven by the enthusiastic audience toward the final part of the concert.

After the notes to the "Ending Theme" faded, the star of the show, Uematsu, came on stage. Padding up to the stage in socks and slippers, draped in common worker's garb (which came off as the height of elegance, but which was likely worn to convey humility), he seemed genuinely delighted at the turnout. He waved with both hands continuously, like a child who could barely contain his enthusiasm. The audience mirrored his reaction, honoring him with a standing ovation and applauding after almost every statement he made, frequently drowning out the translator.

He first thanked the performers and audience and said how glad he was that video game music is becoming more mainstream in Japan. He talked about how unfortunate it is that most children don't often get the chance to listen to a symphony and how he hoped to change that. He concluded by thanking the audience one last time and asking them to support any future game-related concerts that might take place in the US.

After Uematsu finished his comments, the orchestra and chorus came back for one last encore, performing "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. Then after a final standing ovation, the crowd filed out of the auditorium.

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