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Feature: A Night At The Theatre With Symphonic Legends

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

A mixed adventure

On Sunday 13th July the Barbican in London hosted Symphonic Legends, a concert featuring music from The Legend of Zelda. It was performed by the world-class London Symphony Orchestra, with appearances by London Symphony Chorus and the energetic 'classical band', Spark; the arrangements were composed by Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo. Arrangements drew direct or brief inspiration from titles such as A Link To The Past, Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Skyward Sword and more.

Unlike the terrific 25th Anniversary 2011 event in London, this wasn't officially a Nintendo concert, though clearly had its blessing. While previous worldwide tours — this was a one-off performance — have featured a lot of Zelda imagery, video and faithful orchestrations of series music, the approach of this concert was somewhat different. Some of the Nintendo Life team attended, and you can see their personal opinions on the evening below.

Anthony Dickens

In 2011 I was fortunate enough to attend the ‘The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony’ concert in London, which was a fantastically magical experience; whilst I enjoyed parts of ‘Symphonic Legends’ last night, it was sadly underwhelming by comparison. I want to be fair and clear that I know very little (pretty much nothing) about performing classical music, or how the source material may have been required to change to suit an orchestra, but for me large parts of the performance simply didn’t resonate in the way I was expecting, leaving me feeling quite flat. Key moments in the music seemed off, almost in a different key to what I expected, which felt a little strange. Occasionally trademark themes would begin to appear but almost as quickly would disappear without a trace — it’s as if the fan-service we were craving was teased and then snatched back by the conductor who simply wanted to play his own interpretation.

Overall I found the experience to be confusing; the quality of the music and performance was of course very high, but at the same time it all felt rather disguised or incomplete.

Tom Whitehead

This was a peculiar night. The issue was the performance style clashing with audience expectations, with arrangements that — whether for artistic or rights reasons — diverged significantly from source. My favourite arrangement was the most simple and relatively faithful of the night, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword — Overture. My instinct is that it's the game with a soundtrack originally composed with a live orchestra in mind, as used in the game, so there was less scope for the composer to 'interpret' the original source material.

I did, in my younger days, play music to a high level — French Horn, as my pointless fact of the day — and considered studying classical performance at University. Listening to the performance I could understand what the promoters, arrangement team and the LSO had tried to achieve, as it was an interpretation on video game music that would perhaps interest their regular followers and the Classical FM crowd. Unfortunately for them the audience was mainly gamers, so fan-service was in demand; the 25th Anniversary Event mark two, in other words. This, however, was a straight-laced orchestral performance, so the issue is not with the standard of the concert, but the fact that some of those that paid a lot of money perhaps felt a little caught out by the content on offer.

To round off with a more critical — less apologetic — perception, I will say that the LSO, one of the finest orchestras in the world, seemed a tad undercooked. This felt like a typical one night 'job for the money', as there were moments of poor timing and mistakes that suggested limited rehearsal time and familiarity with the music; the enthusiastic guest players for The Wind Waker segment were often drowned out, too. I also continually complain about some forgetting that video games are games, but seek a deeper artistic meaning and impact. Zelda games are mostly about a hero saving the world / Princess — it's hardly Dostoevsky. It's a trend in games writing and performances like this to try and make the industry more 'grown up', which I believe is sometimes vested in personal insecurities, not what's best for games. In that sense, Zelda music should be simply reproduced from the games with a lovely orchestral sound — attempting artistic interpretation, as these arrangements did, is unlikely to succeed.

Overall, I was glad to have attended and quite enjoyed the concert. Would I go again if I knew what to expect, though? Considering the ticket prices and costs to get to the venue, probably not.

Martin Watts

Like Ant, I too went to Nintendo's Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony, so it's fair to say that the stunning performance I experienced back in 2011 influenced my enjoyment of the Symphonic Legends Orchestra.

Know your audience: these are the three words that should have been uttered into the ear of whoever organised this latest event. Potential rights issues aside, the Symphonic Legends Orchestra didn't sound like it should have done — odd given that it was aimed at core Zelda fans — but, more crucially, it also failed to exude much in the way of charm or fan service. The Barbican Centre was woefully lacking in Zelda paraphernalia, and instead we were greeted with a rather generic setup that didn't feel like a celebration of one of gaming's greatest successes.

The music was heavily rearranged, sometimes to the point where it was practically indistinguishable, with the orchestra relying on the same leitmotif pretty much the whole way throughout. Classic tunes which have remained ingrained in our brains for decades were conspicuously absent, leading me to assume that the orchestra hadn't sufficiently researched the game's aural history to identify what it is that gamers love so much about it. Combined with the lack of a screen showing gameplay as per Nintendo's show, it was difficult to identify what game a specific section of the music came from — even a longtime Zelda fan such as myself was at a loss. With that said, the orchestra should be commended for its exceptional quality of performance, and while I feel that the overall execution missed the mark for its intended audience, it was nevertheless an interesting approach in that it did something a bit different.

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User Comments (10)



ZurrrrBlattTron said:

LOZ music is the best music, my favorite song is gerudo valley :3 best remix I ever heard of it was Mamacitas in my valley only AND only for the Spanish guitar



King47 said:

I remember seeing an orchestra online playing arrangements of the Zelda music and not liking it at all, so I think I understand what you guys are describing. And I love listening to various arrangements and versions of classical and contemporary music.



MeddlingIdiot said:

Unfortunately I was unable to attend this concert although I went to the 25th Anniversary and last year's Symphony of the Goddesses, which were phenomenal. It does sound like this performance was put together in a short amount of time, which is a shame considering admission price. Hopefully the official tour will roll though the UK again at some point in the near future, as Eimear Noone certainly knows what she's doing.



FlaygletheBagel said:

Sorry to hear it didn't live up to expectations; I would've thought the London Symphony Orchestra doing Zelda music would be awesome to listen to.

I love the 25th anniversary CD that came bundled with Skyward Sword, and I'm a HUGE fan of the Twilight Symphony.



ValiantPixel said:

Zora's Domain is my favorite Zelda location and has the best music I'm even wearing my Zora's Domain shirt right now, and have Zora's Domain and Gerudo Valley canvas prints on my wall It's a good life being a Nintendo "super-fan". I hope to go to the Pokemon Symphonic Evolutions later this year, if there is one in the San Francisco area.



tom_q said:

I enjoyed everything apart from Spark, they were just painfully corny.



ninjanna said:

Upon seeing the program for the concert, I was slightly surprised that only two games were chosen for the main arrangement material. Although Skyward Sword and The Wind Waker are both beautiful games with a recognisable soundtrack, it was probably not what the majority of fans expected. A surprise thrown in part way with Gerudo Valley was probably the only instantly recognisable piece while the rest, although beautiful in it's own way, didn't set my fan girl heart alight. I felt that the short motifs were too easily lost in the whole complexity of the arrangement and I found myself spending more time trying to guess which piece they arranged without referring to the program rather than sitting back and letting the music take me. I personally found the best parts were the pieces that kept faithful to the original score such as Dark World Theme and The Great Sea but even those pieces were sadly short and few in between. I think it might have worked better if they used material from more games from the series... Link's Awakening and Minish Cap's soundtracks both have very recognisable themes and it would have definitely impressed me if they were able to work the simple motifs into the final arrangements. I understand what the arrangers were going for in trying to tell a story via their massive arrangements but I felt that their choices slightly missed the mark to make a mediocre arrangement into something that resonates better with the fans, especially the ones that appreciate the music but are not classical music buffs. And no Fairy Fountain theme?! COME ON GUYS!!!



onyxbox said:

I was there ... it was a fantastic night and a good thing to do while the world cup final was on



WindWakerLink said:

I wonder how they would do with the Final Fantasy music after reading this. Those Distant Worlds concert fantastic!

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