Sound Byte: Symphonic Game Music Concerts

We talk to Thomas Boecker, the producer of the longest running video game music concerts outside of Japan.

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You may have heard of Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy, Video Games Live, or Play! A Video Game Symphony, where a concert tour highlights some of your favorite pieces from video games from the past and present. Symphonic Game Music began in 2003 in Leipzig, Germany, and for many of you, that's quite the trek. But this year, another concert is being held on September 23 and will be streamed live starting at 8 p.m. UMT or 4 a.m. PDT. Read on for more information!

GameSpot: Could you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and how you started the Symphonic Game Music Concerts?

Thomas Boecker: My name is Thomas Boecker; I am a producer of concerts and music albums, especially on the field of video games. An example of my work is the Symphonic Game Music Concert series that started in 2003 in Leipzig, Germany, featuring music from Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Medal of Honor, Outcast, Shenmue, and many, many others. In 2003, we presented the very first video game music concert outside of Japan. Since then, I produced annual events featuring video game music from all over the world, with dozens of premieres and with many composers in attendance, such as Nobuo Uematsu, Yoko Shimomura, Hiroki Kikuta, Yasunori Mitsuda, Yuzo Koshiro, Jason Hayes, Rob Hubbard, and Chris Huelsbeck.

I started the series out of my passion for video game music, which I got involved with at the age of 7 when listening to the soundtracks on my Commodore 64. I always had the dream of hearing my favorite video game music in a concert hall, performed by an orchestra. This is something that began in Japan originally, and I was sure it would find its audience in other countries as well.

GS: How has the feedback from the fans been?

TB: Simply wonderful. Of course, I could concentrate on telling you that all concerts have been sold out almost immediately. What is more important to me, however, is that a huge number of fans is attending our series since the very beginning in 2003, which is a great honor to us. People are traveling from all over the world to Germany--from France, Sweden, Poland, the USA, and even Japan--just to experience our concerts live in person. Hearing their favorite music performed by an orchestra means so much to them on a very emotional level, and I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of such productions. As Nobuo Uematsu recently said about my concert "Symphonic Fantasies - Music From Square Enix," it is a fantastic way of bringing people from all over the world together, listening to music in joy and peace.

Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is currently on tour.
Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy is currently on tour.

GS: What is it like working with the various orchestras and conductors?

TB: I always wanted to be involved in orchestra productions, and obviously, I found a great way to make that happen. It is wonderful seeing 70, 80, 90 professional musicians performing together, making the soundtracks come to life. I love it! On one hand, at my concerts; on the other, at all the live recordings, such as Yoko Shimomura's Drammatica CD or the "Distant Worlds - Music From Final Fantasy" releases produced by Arnie Roth.

Talking about Arnie Roth, it is a great honor working with such a professional and kind conductor. I must say that thanks to him I learned a lot, and I will be forever grateful for his support. Similar things can be said about Andy Brick, who conducted the first five Symphonic Game Music Concerts from 2003 to 2007. Both Arnie Roth and Andy Brick are people whom I respect and whom I call good friends.

GS: How do you determine which tracks to play? What are some notable ones that are always included?

TB: The events that I am producing for the Symphonic Game Music Concert series are featuring completely new programs every year; something that nobody else in the world is doing to this extent. Therefore, it is difficult to name specific tracks that are included always. But I can say that series such as Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda are among the ones fans love to hear.

As for the track selection, we listen to fan suggestions, but a lot comes down to personal preferences, too. Whenever possible, we consult with the original composers, asking them for their opinions.

GS: When is the next concert? What can you tell us about it?

TB: The next concert takes place on September 23, 2010. It will be performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra at the beautiful Philharmonic Hall in Cologne again. It features soloists Rony Barrak (darbouka) and Benyamin Nuss (piano). It will be lead by the new chief conductor of the WDR Radio Orchestra, Niklas Willen. The concert is entitled "Symphonic Legends - Music From Nintendo," and we will present brand new arrangements from games/series, such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country, F-Zero, Metroid, Pikmin, StarFox, and, of course, The Legend of Zelda.

Similar to our concert last year, "Symphonic Legends" will be broadcast live on radio and is going to be audio/video streamed live on the Internet! Therefore, people from all over the world can connect and experience the event at home for free.

We just opened our Web page at where people can get all needed information on how to watch our concert on September 23, 2010.

GS: Any chance of bringing the concert to the United States?

TB: As I am working with conductor Arnie Roth on a lot of my projects, this is not out of question. As a matter of a fact, I was once involved in the world tour Play! A Video Game Symphony were many of the arrangements performed are originally from the older time (2003-2007) of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series. It would be certainly great performing a concert such as "Symphonic Fantasies - Music From Square Enix" or "Symphonic Legends - Music From Nintendo" in the United States, too!

GS: You are also working on a Merregnon project. Could you tell us more about what that is?

TB: Merregnon is a CD project that I started back in 1999. It is planned as a trilogy; two parts of the series have been released already.

The idea behind it is bringing video game composers, such as Yuzo Koshiro, Chris Huelsbeck, Andy Brick and many others, together, working on a fantasy soundtrack based on a newly created story, expressed by orchestral music. My goal was to have video game composers from all over the world working on something that has no video game background and showcasing their great skills outside the regular context, so to speak.

The second part was recorded by a live orchestra in 2002, and the CD was published in an English and a Japanese edition. I hope to finish the third part one day, but given that my concerts are keeping my quite busy, I doubt that it will happen too soon.

Symphonic Fantasies comes out September 17.
Symphonic Fantasies comes out September 17.

GS: How did Symphonic Fantasies come about? Could you tell us more about how this album was put together and its upcoming release?

TB: "Symphonic Fantasies - Music From Square Enix" is a live concert album recorded in 2009 at the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne, performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra and choir and conducted by Arnie Roth. As the name suggests, it features music from Square Enix games, such as Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, and Final Fantasy. For the album release we fine-tuned the recordings in consultation with the original composers and arrangers, and we went to the famous Abbey Road Studios in London to do the mastering. I am very proud that Symphonic Fantasies will be released by DECCA (Universal Music), a prestigious label for classic music. In my opinion, it tells a lot about the quality we have to offer with our album. Never before has a major classic label published a live concert recording of video game music.

"Symphonic Fantasies" is quite different from other video game music concerts, as we have four long suites of music, each about 15 minutes long and comparable to movements in major symphonies. My intention was to introduce more musical development and creative ideas to video game music arrangements. The four composers of the music, Yoko Shimomura, Hiroki Kikuta, Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, were all in attendance at the concert in Cologne and full of praise for what we achieved.

The album is out on September 17, 2010. While it will be released on the German market at first with other territories following later, the online shop MAZ Sound Tools is taking international orders for the CD (

GS: What other projects are you working on that you’d like to share?

TB: I already started working on next year's concert, "Symphonic Odysseys," which is a tribute to Nobuo Uematsu, featuring music of his career. Probably needless to say, it is very exciting being involved in such a project. Arnie Roth will be conducting the WDR Radio Orchestra and choir again, and we invited soloists Rony Barrak and Benyamin Nuss. The concert will take place again at the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne on July 9, 2011. Tickets for the concert will go on sale December 1, 2010, making a perfect Christmas gift for fans of orchestral music. You can check for more information.

Talking about our pianist Benyamin Nuss, I am helping him as a consultant as well. Benyamin Nuss just released an album entitled Benyamin Nuss Plays Uematsu featuring music from Final Fantasy, Blue Dragon, Lost Odyssey, and Rad Racer. The label behind the CD is Deutsche Grammophon, one of the most respected classic labels in the world. Therefore, it is a real premiere for video game music!

Benyamin Nuss is doing a tour with 20 stops in Germany with the music from his album, and I am much looking forward to it.

I think that we are currently experiencing a very, very good time for video game music, with concerts all over the world, CD releases by major labels, and a community that is growing and growing. I am extremely happy and grateful being a part of this movement.

GS: Thank you so much for your time!

Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog (updated on Fridays), which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new and classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below.

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