Play! kicks off world tour in Chicago

Fans, legendary composers, world-class musicians gather for old favorites, next-gen surprises, special guest performers at Play! A Video Game Symphony opener.

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ROSEMONT, Ill.--Located far west of Chicago's bustling loop district, and a little too close to the runways of that city's O'Hare Airport, sits the Rosemont Theatre. Last Saturday, it was the scene for Play! A Video Game Symphony, a concert featuring the music from such well-known games and game franchises as World of Warcraft, Halo, The Legend of Zelda, Battlefield, the Final Fantasy series, and others.

Lending even greater weight to the music itself, the composers of all these works were in attendance. It was a concert that afforded the nearly 4,000 attendees an opportunity to pay homage to these 10 composers. "We don't get this collection of people in one spot very often," conductor and musical director Arnie Roth told GameSpot.

At seven in the evening, the doors to the theatre opened and eager ticket-holders began to stream in. Once inside, they bought merchandise and drinks, and waited for the inner doors to open. The crowd was primarily young, and surprisingly, very few were wearing costumes. In fact, the audience was dressed up for the special occasion.

At 7:30, the concert-hall doors opened and people began to find their seats. A buzz of anticipation split the air. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, many attendees said as they filled the hall to near capacity.

At 8 o'clock, without warning, the audience gasped. A lineup of 10 composers entered the hall, walking directly in front of the stage. A spotlight followed them, each with their arms raised. The audience recognized the individuals and immediately stood, delivering a great roar of approval.

The orchestra was then seated onstage in the darkness, with instruments at the ready. Play! musical director Arnie Roth stepped to the podium, followed by more applause. The first piece played was a short Fanfare composed by Nobuo Uematsu specially for this concert series.

The audience applauded again and Roth said a few words, introducing the next piece from Final Fantasy VIII, titled "Liberi Fatali." After each piece, Roth stepped from the podium, looked at his sheaf of notes, and made a few comments. He told the audience that this night would be full of surprises. The first was a performance by Koji Kondo.

Kondo was hired by Nintendo in 1983 and wrote the music for eight Mario Brothers games and seven Zelda games. He stepped across the stage, arms raised, waving in acknowledgement of the rounds of applause.

Kondo sat at the piano and the lights dimmed, with just one spotlight on him. He wore a white jacket, which contrasted dramatically with the darkness of the hall. He began to play, and as he did, he began to move. His shoulders straight, his head and neck swaying in tandem.

Kondo played piano with a rhythm similar to that of Ray Charles. He wasn't trying to be cool--he was feeling the music. And watching him, so was the audience. When the piece ended, he stood, bowed facing the audience, shook hands with Roth, waved again, and exited stage left.

Roth then explained the reason why no one recognized the piece--it was a brand new composition, from a forthcoming Super Mario Bros. game. The orchestra then played a suite of Super Mario Bros. music.

Three giant screens above the orchestra displayed close-ups of the musicians performing, intercutting footage from the appropriate game, and cross-fading to particular sections of the orchestra. Mario, Zelda, and Sonic tunes each featured gameplay from several generations, with the most classic version of the game always drawing laughter and applause from the audience.

The pattern for the evening was Roth introducing a number, telling the audience that the composer was in the house, and having the composer stand for the spotlight and applause (composers were seated throughout the house), starting with Takenobu Mitsuyoshi before his piece "Sedge Tree" from Shenmue was performed.

Next up was the suite from Battlefield, with extraordinary guest percussion by Rony Barak. "Aerith's Theme" from Final Fantasy VII follows. Yuzo Koshiro, orchestrator of the suite from Sonic the Hedgehog, was then introduced to the audience, with Roth saying, "Everyone loves Sonic." The "Main Theme" from Metal Gear Solid was the last piece before intermission.

During the intermission, the composers gathered in the green room for cheese and wine--there was the taking of souvenir photos, congratulating Barak on an amazing performance, and talk about music. Ten of the most revered composers of video game music don't often find themselves in the same room, but tonight, it was the norm.

After the intermission, Angela Aki took the stage. Someone in the audience yelled, "I love you, Ang--" before being drowned out by applause. Sitting at the piano in blue jeans and an orange T-shirt, Aki said she felt underdressed for the occasion--not that the audience minded in the slightest.

Opening with "Kiss Me Good-Bye," the theme from the recently released Final Fantasy XII, Aki's voice soared, filling the hall. Fingernails painted in a multicolored pattern, Aki struck the keys with verve, and the audience listened intently. For an encore, Aki played her version of "Eyes on Me."

Next in the spotlight was composer Jeremy Soule, and the performance of his suite from Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind followed. Roth then delved into a suite from Oblivion, later announcing that each audience member would receive a ticket to download the Oblivion album free-of-charge from DirectSong.com

Roth then told the audience that this was a "swinging orchestra," and began to play an almost big-band version of "Swing de Chocobo," from the Final Fantasy series. Yasunori Mitsuda was then spotlighted for his work on Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross. The audience jumped to their feet and clapped heartily.

Jason Hayes stood next, as his suite from World of Warcraft was performed.

Then, Akira Yamaoka strode onto the stage. Wearing a red-and-black snake-skin suit, the legendary creator and composer for the Silent Hill series grabbed an electric guitar and proceeded to rock the house with his performance of "Theme of Laura," backed by the full orchestra.

"You rock!" a voice in the audience yelled as Yamaoka played. The audience roared, mirroring Yamaoka's rock-star gestures. And they were still stoked when Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori were recognized for their creation of the Halo theme. The full choir showed throughout the suite, as footage of the Pillar of Autumn glided across the screens.

During the performance's early minutes, members of the audience would occasionally yell, "Play Zelda!" Roth would smile patiently and say, "Not yet." Now, for the third time, someone yelled, "Play Zelda!" Roth smiled, saying, "It's Zelda time." He turned to the orchestra and began to play the familiar suite. It was met by applause.

To close the concert was new music composed by Uematsu for the upcoming game Blue Dragon. The audience called Roth back for an encore, and the orchestra played "One-Winged Angel" from FFVII. More applause, and people began to file out of the concert hall.

At 11 o'clock, those lucky enough to have VIP tickets formed a line up the stairs to meet and greet the composers and artists. Fans had a chance to get items signed, have pictures taken, and tell a particular composer how much his or her music meant to them. By 1 o'clock in the morning, the last of the line still waited to speak to the performers and composers.

The Play! tour and its ever-changing list of guest musicians continues next month with a sold-out performance in Stockholm, then returns to the US in July for performances in Detroit and Philadelphia.

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