FF Distant Worlds 25th Anniversary, Dec. 26, 2012

Interview

by Leela McMullen, Amy, posted December 25, 2013

The 25th Anniversary of Final Fantasy brought the legendary orchestral performance, Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy to Tokyo on December 26, 2012 with a repeat performance on New Year’s Eve. It was a show full of the greatest hits of Final Fantasy expressed with the indomitable spirit of the composers and musicians alike.

In the foyer, a life-size replica of Cloud’s buster sword was the first piece in an exhibition of FF artwork for the crowd to browse during intermission. Inside the hall, an air of anticipation grew with the subtle tuning of trumpets and a hush blanketed the auditorium as the musicians took their seats.

Conductor Arnie Roth received plentiful applause, a testament to his charisma and popularity, before the video screen above the orchestra lit up with some of the earliest FF footage accompanied by the overture of “Final Fantasy” with lulling strains of harp. The choir came in magically with a perfect balance of volume, adding a sense of personality to the music as the video slowly spanned the ages from the tiny characters and giant pixels of FF I to the cleaner graphics of VIIIX to the high definition modern marvels culminating in XIII.

The music began quite appropriately with “Final Fantasy I-III Medley 2” and once again, the loveable pixilated in-game and battle imagery of the earliest games filled the screen. Cute and friendly music introduced the squat little characters dashing about and kicking monster butt though the full complement of strings brought a sense of romance to the piece. The cut scenes of even those earlier games exhibited cutting edge technology to compliment the beauty of the music. Well loved, the chocobo theme made its first appearance as the giant yellow birds loped across the screen beside an immense flying boat. Warmly pompous trumpets rounded off the medley and onscreen, the audience were greeted by the words “Thank you for 25 years of Final Fantasy.”

Arnie Roth had his own greeting for the gathered FF fans, occasionally throwing in a word or two of Japanese. “Yokoso (welcome). Welcome to Distant Worlds. This is ‘The Celebration.’ It’s a double celebration as this is the 25th anniversary of Final Fantasy for all of us and also the 5th anniversary of concerts.” The conductor then introduced his partner in crime, Nobuo Uematsu, composer of the vast majority of Final Fantasy music who stood from his seat amid the audience and took a bow.

The evening continued with Arnie’s explanation of the chronological order of the scores and announcement of new arrangements for “Battle with the Four Fiends” from FFIV and “Phantom Forest” from VI with the familiar “Final Fantasy V Main Theme” interposed. Intricately sinuous, the complexity of “Battle with the Four Fiends” seemed at odds with the simplicity of the older in-game graphics. Character art of the game’s bosses was screened between battle footage, giving weight to the evil sound of the music. “Final Fantasy V Main Theme” on the other hand, sported triumph in its boasting trumpets and clearly resonating strings. Despite the imagery of a world trembling as a giant black hole filled the screen, the music maintained an infinite positivity, waxing and waning in power. A bow from Arnie preceded the second new arrangement, strings and woodwind shining in the tremulous opening of “Phantom Forest” brought to its peak by a flourish of harp. The graphics now seemed clearer, bridging the gap between imagery and musical quality and as phantoms rose up across the screen, the music and images became one with an ominous cast replacing the pleasant tones. Two deep plucks from the cello and a bob of Arnie’s head completed the first section.

“Including FF VII, we were faced with the difficult task of choosing just one piece from each game. This piece was the first to have lyrics so feel free to join us and sing along. You only really need to know one word: Sephiroth!” The introduction thoroughly gave away “One Winged Angel” even before the timpani beat its deep rhythm with the cellos, introducing various dark runs and flourishes in various octaves from carefully selected instruments. Scenes of Sephiroth from the game accompanied the piece, of ocurse, flames and destruction in his wake topped up with footage from Final Fantasy VII, Advent Children. Flawless choral work made the live experience truly special while the instrumental peak saw the draconic summon Bahamut causing mayhem onscreen. Sweet piccolos gave way to cutting strings reminiscent of the iconic stabbing effects in the film American Psycho and at last, the choir took it away with first baritones singing of Sephiroth’s longing before the sopranos swanned in with accolades of glory and nobility, all together wrapping it up with one final, intense “Sephiroth!”

“Hard to follow that one,” said Arnie but “Don’t Be Afraid” from FF VIII continued the chronological path. The footage chosen to accompany the piece began with a barking dog, Squall and Seifer wandering off-screen into Dollet where a giant mechanical crab soon chased the heroes through the town. The Dollet chapter proved an apt match to the exciting battle music and Guardian Force Shiva even made an appearance. Brass boldly took the lead as the battle came to a head on the beach.
The gentle opening of FFXI’s “Not Alone” featured a stirring theme, rhythmic strings telling the story of a wind tossed sailboat while the brass gave the piece a mournful sound as the black mages met their doom. The climax of the tune opened up as Alexander’s wings unfolded above the castle town in a grand gesture. “To Zanarkand” from X provided a more simplistic beauty as the ruins of Zanarkand met the eyes. The majority of the footage spoke of the Tidus/Yuna love story, fitting to the sweet piano tune. Yet, taken up by strings running in different octaves, something pretty became utterly magical.

“Before intermission, we must perform a most important score,” announced Arnie. “It’s time for ‘Chocobo.’” The medley included “Choc-a-bye Baby” from XI, “Mambo de Chocobo” from V and “Pulse de Chocobo” from XIII. Sweet glockenspiel brought chocobo chicks to the screen; insipidly adorable music for insipidly adorable baby birds. For “Mambo,” a baby chick wracked laughter from the fans as the orchestra let out a collective “Ha!” throughout the piece. The theme worked well in the mambo style, exhibiting real spirit with a chant of “C-H-O-C-O-B-O” to fire things up. Meanwhile, “Pulse de Chocobo” featured Sazh’s chocobo companion popping up from his afro and though the Chocobo melody was recognizable, the theme was adapted almost to the point of something entirely new. The finishing touch for the first half was a flock of chocobo chicks forming up into a “25” and the audience applauded until the orchestra stood and Arnie made his exit.

Set list (Pre-Intermission)

  1. Final Fantasy I-III Medley 2
  2. Battle with the Four Fiends – FF IV
  3. Final Fantasy V Main Theme – FF V
  4. Phantom Forest – FF VI
  5. One-Winged Angel – FF VII
  6. Don’t be Afraid – FF VIII
  7. Not Alone – FF IX
  8. To Zanarkand – FF X
  9. Chocobo Medley 2012

Nobuo re-entered the auditorium, kicking off the second half with a bit of flair as he yelled to the fans. “After the next song, let’s hear ‘Bravo!’ ok? Have fun!” A marching rattle of drums and trumpet fanfare fit for any would-be hero struck up with “Procession of Heroes ~ Vana’ diel March Medley.” Gorgeous landscapes and habitats in all sorts of colors swept across the screen to the rousing music, and shouts of “Bravo!” were well earned.

“We began this portion of the concert with the wonderful music of Naoshi Mizuta,” Arnie announced. He then introduced the composer who stood up to take a bow. “Next is FFXII, ‘The Dalmasca Eastersand’ by Hitoshi Sakimoto and then from XIII by Masashi Hamauzu, ‘Blinded By Light.’”

Fun and triumphant, “The Dalmasca Eastersand” brought a bright world and aesthetic graphics to the screen, a sense of excitement underlying fluttering strings and woodwind. The finish was somewhat more dramatic, darker in tone and it earned an ovation before leading to the even darker overtones of “Blinded By Light.” Stormy sky met deep trombone, drums rattling to plucked strings seeding a tendril of fear into the gnawing excitement. As the characters of Final Fantasy XIII took the screen heroically in their introductory scenes and shining moments, the music brightened spectacularly. From then on, it was all glorious summoning scenes, grand landscapes and fascinating creatures, well tailored to the unique music.

“Our first vocal soloist was selected by Nobuo Uematsu and is featured on both Distant Worlds albums. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Susan Calloway.” The vocalist took the stage in a stunning red dress as a deep bass drone from the male contingent of the choir began “Answers” from the latest work, FF XIV. The arrangement brought a sense of church hymn meets Celtic folk music as harp strummed in. Susan’s gorgeous voice sang a vocal line between hymn and lay, turning the piece even more dramatic as she began to speak the words, “Feel. Faith. Teach. Hear…” over the singing of the choir. By the time she reached the word “answer,” she was singing out in a strong voice made for powerful music from the modern age. The finale of the poignant piece saw Susan singing a capella, accompanied only by the bass drone of the choir.

A long round of applause covered Susan’s exit and led into the melancholy yet light “Theme of Love.” A subtle waltz atmosphere was a nice lead-in to the next soloist appearance. “That was the beautiful ‘Theme of Love’ from FF IV. Now, we are very excited to welcome to the stage, Crystal Kay.” The soloist glided onstage in a slim black number, elegant and befitting her mature version of FF VIII’s “Eyes on Me.” Her beautiful voice floated over the ballroom footage, music and scenery in perfect harmony. During the instrumentals, Crystal swayed agilely, feeling the sweeping sound. As the cut scenes grew more emotional, so too did Crystal’s performance yet it never went over the top. A sense of originality accompanied her phrasing, giving the number new meaning, perhaps a touch deeper than the original.

“It’s come to that point,” Arnie began. “It’s time for the opera.” FF VI’s “Opera: Maria and Draco” also sported a new arrangement for the 25th anniversary celebration. After a round of soloist and narrator introductions, the full orchestral opening swept in, highly dramatic. Gentle choral embellishment accompanied the narration of the plot before our gallant tenor, Tomoaki Watanabe, richly began to sing the part of Draco. The live performance was mirrored onscreen in 2-bit graphics as the brilliant composition traversed through moods and roles. Maria, sung by Etsuyo Ota, was characterized in a powerful vibrato, implying strength of character while the antagonistic baritone, Tetsuya Odagawa in the role of Ralse, exuded confidence. As the screen announced “The survivors from the West attack,” the men faced off in a duet, their vocal timbres uniquely distinguishable. The cliché plot was conveyed in simple lyrics, cleverly bringing a sense of playfulness to the number. One fabulous final note courtesy of the entire orchestra and combined choir and soloists brought an end but the music seemed to resound in the applause itself.

Arnie was profuse in his gratitude. “We cannot thank all of the FF fans around the world enough for supporting Distant Worlds. For the 25th anniversary, we have put together a new medley of battle music. So, here’s a battle medley,” the conductor said, introducing this final gift to the fans.

Battle & Victory Fanfare Medley” began in older graphics with battle scenes against a common foe throughout many of the games, Gilgamesh. Another iconic moment among the footage was that of Seymour (FF X) summoning the monstrous aeon, Anima. Footage from both FF VII Advent Children and Crisis Core were also worked into the montage as the battle themes progressed, culminating in the ultimate sound of triumph, the iconic Final Fantasy “Victory Fanfare.”

All of the soloists returned along with the three composers in attendance and several rounds of bows were taken amid laughter as Uematsu signaled the vocalists to bow “again” and so on. Turning back to the orchestra, Arnie cued up one final piece, reprising the “Final Fantasy” theme as credits rolled onscreen over an array of iconic FF footage. “And thank you our fans for your undying support,” finished the credits.

Uematsu wasn’t done yet, though, he ran back out, soloists in tow for another series of bows and laughter. The final moments saw Arnie turn to clap his orchestra, who all returned the applause for a celebration well accomplished.

Set List (Post-Intermission)

  1. Procession of Heroes ~ Vana’ diel March Medley – FF XI
  2. The Dalmasca Eastersand – FF XII
  3. Blinded By Light – FF XIII
  4. Answers – FF XIV (soloist: Susan Calloway)
  5. Theme of Love – FF IV
  6. Eyes On Me – FF VIII (soloist: Crystal Kay)
  7. Opera: Maria and Draco – FF VI (new arrangement)
  8. Battle & Victory Fanfare Medley
  9. Final Fantasy (over credits)

Leela McMullen is a strong believer in the philosophy "no music, no life." Having traversed the range of Japanese fandoms, she found her home at last in visual kei and has made it her mission to share what she loves most with the world. Leela completed her B.A. in Japanese language from Griffith University in Gold Coast Australia. She now lives and works in Japan, striving to bring you the goods, hot from the scene. Follow her on twitter for juicy hints of upcoming articles if you've got a bit of Japanese language under your belt! http://twitter.com/#!/LeelaInTokyo

Amy happened across Dir en grey on a used computer and became enamored by the aesthetics and androgyny of visual kei. Amy studied Japanese at university, including a year studying abroad in Tokyo. Interests include anime and manga, reading, learning languages, playing guitar, and holding on to the futile dream of one day meeting Johnny Depp. Amy hopes to bring the overseas fans closer to the bands they love by translating material related to them.

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