Symphonic Game Music Concerts

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The participants of Symphonic Fantasies after the performance of the concert

The Symphonic Game Music Concerts (German: Symphonische Spielemusikkonzerte) are a series of award-winning, annual German video game music concerts initiated in 2003, notable for being the longest running and the first of their kind outside of Japan.[1][2][3] They are produced by Thomas Böcker and performed by various orchestras conducted by Andy Brick (2003–2007), Arnie Roth (2008, 2009 and 2011), Niklas Willén (2010, 2012) and Eckehard Stier (from 2012).[4][5][6]

From 2003 to 2007, GC in Concert took place at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig and was held as the official opening ceremony of the GC – Games Convention, a trade fair for video games in Leipzig. In 2008, the cancellation of the concert by the Leipzig Trade Fair resulted in a cooperation with the WDR, eventually spawning new video game music performances by its in-house ensembles, principally presented at the Cologne Philharmonic Hall.

Development[edit]

Since 1999, Thomas Böcker has been working in the games industry as producer, director and advisor for a variety of soundtracks.[7] His role as executive producer and project director of the Merregnon trilogy[8] provided him with many contacts to conductors, orchestras and composers from around the world.[7]

Inspired by game concerts from Japan, the Orchestral Game Music Concerts from the 1990s in particular, he developed a concept for the first event of this kind outside of Japan.[9] To attract as many people from the target audience as possible, the concert was to be scheduled alongside an established event connected to the game industry.[7] In 2002, he proposed his idea to the Leipzig Trade Fair which agreed to hold the Symphonic Game Music Concert during the GC – Games Convention, the first trade fair for video games in Europe.[9][10]

The Leipzig Trade Fair funded GC in Concert while Böcker himself was responsible for planning the event, inviting composers, obtaining the approval of the individual publishers to play music from their titles and assembling the concert programs.[9] He did not want to limit the selection of compositions performed to European games, but instead opted for the best Asian, American and European titles of recent years, providing a wide range of musical styles.[7]

Böcker's main focus with the First Symphonic Game Music Concert was to honor publishers that had worked with live orchestras before.[7] The majority of compositions had already been recorded with this kind of ensemble in the past which reduced the development stage to four months, beginning in mid-April 2003.[7]

Following feedback from attendants of the first event, more music from classic games was added to the programs.[11] The concerts took Böcker almost one year each to plan[9] and started to include more new and experimental arrangements that, instead of just being presented as an orchestral version of the source material, were based on their creators' personal interpretations of the original pieces.[12] The pioneer work done by Böcker and his team resulted in a lot of publisher support for game concerts outside of Japan and paved the way for many similar events.[7] The Symphonic Game Music Concerts have since become widely known for its numerous world premieres, some of which have been reused in Press Start -Symphony of Games-,[13] PLAY! A Video Game Symphony and Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. Böcker was involved with PLAY! in a leading role from 2005 to 2007,[9] and was working as a consultant for Distant Worlds from 2007 to 2011.

Favoring a more classical atmosphere, the series does not rely on showing game footage or extensive light effects, but rather on the quality of the music and its performance.[14] The original inspiration GC in Concert drew from the Orchestral Game Music Concerts was reflected in the presentation and rearrangement of two of its compositions[6] and the use of orchestra figures designed by Chisa Suzuki,[15] akin to those depicted on the Orchestral Game Music Concert CD covers.[16]

Many famous game music composers have attended the events and the associated autograph sessions,[6] while Shiro Hamaguchi, Michiru Yamane, Yuzo Koshiro and Takenobu Mitsuyoshi actively participated in the series as guest arrangers and performers.[6][17]

GC in Concert[edit]

The GC in Concert logo used in 2007

Starting from 2003, five critically acclaimed[18][19][20][21] annual concerts took place in the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig, all of which attracted a sold-out crowd of 2000 people.[22] In their role as official opening ceremonies of the GC – Games Convention, the events from 2003 to 2006 included various speeches and presentations by German politicians and spokespersons of the industry, such as game designer Will Wright.[23]

The First Symphonic Game Music Concert in 2003 marked the first orchestral video game music event outside of Japan.[1] It was the only GC – Games Convention concert to feature the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, whereas subsequent events were performed by the FILMharmonic Orchestra from Prague.[5] Over the years, more musicians such as Seiji Honda and Rony Barrak were introduced to support the orchestra, with the Fourth Symphonic Game Music Concert using a live choir and the pipe organ of the Gewandhaus for the first time.[6]

Cancellation of GC in Concert[edit]

At the beginning of 2008, a note at the official website of the Symphonic Game Music Concerts announced that no future GC – Games Convention concerts would take place at the Gewandhaus zu Leipzig.[24] Instead, the opening ceremony in 2008 was replaced by a Video Games Live show in the Arena Leipzig.[25]

Tommy Tallarico stated that he had a mail correspondence with Böcker about having both concerts at the beginning and the end of the GC – Games Convention 2007, though both felt that it would have been too confusing for the attendants.[26] The official reason of the Leipzig Trade Fair for cancelling the traditional concerts was that, with the Symphonic Game Music Concerts they wanted to prove to politics and the economy that video games are objects of cultural value. The disconnection of the official opening ceremony with any concerts from 2007 onwards made that requirement feel unnecessary for the Leipzig Trade Fair.[27] According to comments by Thomas Böcker, the Leipzig Trade Fair did not inform him about the new collaboration with Video Games Live in advance and his team only took notice of it through a press release.[12]

After 2007[edit]

The official logo of the game concert series adopted in early 2010

On account of a hint from conductor Scott Lawton, Winfried Fechner, manager of the WDR Radio Orchestra Cologne, contacted Thomas Böcker in an attempt to provide the ensemble with a fresh kind of music and was invited to attend the Fifth Symphonic Game Music Concert.[28] Impressed by the reactions of the audience, he saw an opportunity to excite young people for orchestral music and formed a cooperation with Merregnon Studios, soon resulting in the CD release of drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura- and the inclusion of video game music in the concert PROMS That's Sound, that's Rhythm.[29][30]

Symphonic Shades – Hülsbeck in Concert[edit]

In late 2007, Thomas Böcker announced that he is producing Symphonic Shades, a concert exclusively dedicated to the music of German game composer Chris Hülsbeck, taking place on 23 August 2008.[31] Tickets for it were sold out after six days,[32] prompting the producers to iniate a second concert[33] that would be performed to another sold-out audience at 11 pm on the same day of the Symphonic Shades world premiere.[34] The event marked the first live radio broadcast of a video game music concert.[35]

The WDR Radio Orchestra Cologne and the FILMharmonic Choir performing Symphonic Shades

On 17 December 2008, a critically acclaimed[36][37] album with the complete Symphonic Shades program was released by Chris Hülsbeck's own label, synSONIQ Records.[38] It contains live material from the concert that is complemented by recordings before and after the public performances.[39] The first print of the CD is a collector's edition limited to 1000 copies and was sold out at the main retailer less than a month after the initial release.[39][40] In order to ensure continuous availability of the recording, digital releases on iTunes[41] and Amazon[42] followed the CD, of which a second print was released on 20 May 2009.[43][44] Unlike the limited collector's edition, the second print is lower in price and is shipped in standard CD trays, but still contains the booklet included with the first 1000 copies of the album, though with normal printing rather than a matte/gloss coating effect on the cover.[44]

On 4 August 2009, eight pieces of Symphonic Shades were performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at the concert Sinfonia Drammatica in the Stockholm Concert Hall, along with titles of drammatica by Yoko Shimomura.[45] For this occasion, Jonne Valtonen slightly revised his version of the Turrican II main theme.[12] Additionally, the Duisburg Philharmonic performed nine arrangements from Symphonic Shades at their 3. Familienkonzert on 3 December 2009.[46]

Symphonic Fantasies – music from Square Enix[edit]

Main article: Symphonic Fantasies

Concerts 2009[edit]

Uematsu, Mitsuda, Shimomura and Kikuta at an autograph session before Symphonic Fantasies

In February 2008, Thomas Böcker mentioned some considerations about a continuation of the Symphonic Game Music Concert series in Cologne.[47] The plans were later confirmed by Winfried Fechner who announced Symphonic Fantasies, a video game music concert that took place in the Cologne Philharmonic Hall on 12 September 2009.[48] Tickets for the event sold out quickly, necessitating a second concert at the König-Pilsener-Arena in Oberhausen, on 11 September 2009.[49] In addition to the live performances, the concert saw a radio broadcast on WDR4 and, for the first time, enabled viewers world-wide to experience the event via live video streaming.[50] A CD edited and mixed at the WDR Studios and mastered at Abbey Road Studios was released in Japan on 15 September 2010 by Square Enix and in Germany on 17 September 2010 by the Universal Music Group label Decca Records.[51][52] The CD entered the Media Control Charts Germany (Classic Top-20 Charts) for sales in September 2010 at position No. 13.[53]

Symphonic Fantasies was dedicated to Japanese developer Square Enix and included arrangements of compositions from Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross and Kingdom Hearts,[54][55] all of which were presented in form of suites[56] that were up to 18 minutes in length, comparable to movements in major symphonies.[57] This new concept was a result of Böcker's intention to introduce more musical development and creative ideas to game music arrangements.[12] In order to select the pieces presented, the original composers were consulted to assemble a list of their personal favorites.[12] The process also involved an intricate study of the source material and all available arrangements thereof.[12] In the end, much emphasis was put on balancing out the concert program and the arrangements to provide an enjoyable experience for both experienced listeners and first-time attendees.[12]

To set the mood for the performances, the concerts were opened with an original composition by Jonne Valtonen, the "Fanfare overture".[58] An early recording of the fanfare performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra Cologne under the direction of Niklas Willén was made available on the official Symphonic Fantasies site.[59] In total, the concerts received about two weeks of rehearsal time prior to their performances, more than any other game concert before.[12]

Concerts 2012[edit]

On 7 and 8 January 2012 the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus performed Symphonic Fantasies under the leadership of Eckehard Stier.[60] Stier once conducted the recordings of the CD album drammatica -The Very Best of Yoko Shimomura-,[61] and the opening fanfare of Symphonic Legends for a promotional video.[62] Both performances of Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo were sold out within a few hours only, making it the biggest success for the producers to date. More than 4,600 fans were in attendance.[63] A double CD containing the Tokyo concert recording was released in Germany on 11 June 2012.[64] However, the CD was sold in Sweden for the first time on 9 June 2012 at the Symphonic Fantasies Stockholm performance, conducted by Andreas Hanson.[65]

Finally, on 5 and 6 July 2012 the WDR Radio Orchestra and the WDR Radio Choir performed Symphonic Fantasies, conducted by Niklas Willén.[66][67] In 2009, Willén conducted the opening fanfare of Symphonic Fantasies for the promotion of the event, and the WDR Radio Orchestra also performed the Nintendo tribute concert Symphonic Legends under his direction in 2010.

Symphonic Legends – Music from Nintendo[edit]

Symphonic Fantasies was met with considerable praise and feedback from attendants, causing the announcement of another Symphonic Game Music Concert entitled Symphonic Legends.[6][68] Taking place in the Cologne Philharmonic Hall on 23 September 2010 (Nintendo was founded on 23 September 1889), the complete concert was conducted by Niklas Willén for the first time, whereas Jonne Valtonen again served as main arranger and as composer of the opening piece called "Fanfare for the Common 8-bit Hero".[69][70] Additional music was contributed by Roger Wanamo and guest arrangers Shiro Hamaguchi, Hayato Matsuo, Masashi Hamauzu and Torsten Rasch.[71] The event focused on music from Nintendo and featured the titles Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country, Metroid, F-Zero, StarFox, Pikmin and The Legend of Zelda.[72] Tickets for Symphonic Legends sold out on 19 March 2010.[73] In addition to the performance, the concert saw a live radio broadcast on WDR4 in 5.1 surround sound, a world-wide live audio streaming and live video streaming, available in Germany.[74][75]

Symphonic Legends introduced several innovations to the world of video game music concerts, such as the contemporary styled arrangement of Metroid and a 35-minute Symphonic Poem telling the story of The Legend of Zelda through symphonic music. The Legend of Zelda portion of the concert made the full second half of Symphonic Legends. This was done in five parts, Hyrulian Child, Dark Lord, Princess of Destiny, Battlefield, and Hero of Time.[76]

On 31 May 2011, Pikmin and The Legend of Zelda were performed again by the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf.[77] On 1 June 2011, scores inspired by Symphonic Legends were performed by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at the concert LEGENDS in the Stockholm Concert Hall. Different from Symphonic Legends, which featured the work of six arrangers, the music of LEGENDS has been arranged by the trio Jonne Valtonen, Roger Wanamo and Masashi Hamauzu[78] who were in attendance at the concert and Meet & Greet.[79]

Symphonic Legends London - 2014[edit]

On 13 July 2014, the Symphonic Legends concert was performed at the Barbican Centre, London by the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Chorus and the five piece chamber ensemble Spark. The Legend of Zelda Symphonic Poem returned along with the Fanfare for the Common 8-bit Hero, along with an overture of music from Skyward Sword, a concerto of music from The Wind Waker, and an arrangement of the Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time as an encore.[80]

Symphonic Odysseys – Tribute to Nobuo Uematsu[edit]

Main article: Symphonic Odysseys

On 9 July 2011, the WDR Radio Orchestra presented Symphonic Odysseys at the Philharmonic Hall in Cologne. The concert exclusively paid homage to the work of composer Nobuo Uematsu.[51] Tickets went on sale 1 December 2010 and sold out within 12 hours,[81] prompting the producers to announce a second concert to be performed at 3 pm on the same day.[82] With both concerts sold out, Symphonic Odysseys marked the biggest video game music event in Germany so far.[83]

Final Symphony - Music from Final Fantasy VI, VII and X[edit]

Final Symphony is Thomas Böcker's latest major video game music concert production, featuring music from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X.

The world premiere took place on May 11, 2013, in Wuppertal, Germany. The concerts were performed by the Wuppertal Symphony Orchestra at the venue Historische Stadthalle Wuppertal. A performance by the London Symphony Orchestra has been presented on May 30, 2013 taking place in London at the Barbican Centre, the first live performance of video game music by the London Symphony Orchestra, marking a historical moment for the Final Fantasy franchise and video game music in general.

Final Symphony in Wuppertal and London sold out months prior to the concert dates. The pieces were arranged by Masashi Hamauzu, one of the composers for Final Fantasy X, along with Jonne Valtonen and Roger Wanamo, and the arranged works are based on compositions by him and Nobuo Uematsu, who is acting as a consultant for the concert. Eckehard Stier is the conductor of Final Symphony.

Symphonic Selections - Japanese Video Game Music[edit]

Symphonic Selections is scheduled for November 22, 2013. Taking place in Cologne, it will be performed by the WDR Radio Orchestra again. The orchestra will be supported by the chamber group Spark for the first time. Symphonic Selections will feature reprises of arrangements performed earlier at the Symphonic Game Music Concerts, as well as all new scores. Announced pieces include The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Shadow of the Colossus, Shenmue, Monster Hunter Tri, and Super Mario Galaxy.[84] Tickets went on sale July 22, 2013; with the event reportedly selling out in less than an hour following the announcement.[85]

Chamber music and school concerts[edit]

The Chamber Music Game Concerts (German: Kammermusik-Spielekonzerte) performed by a string ensemble and the school concerts Heroes of our Imagination (German: Helden unserer Phantasie) and Super Mario Galaxy – A Musical Adventure (German: Super Mario Galaxy – Ein musikalisches Abenteuer) are three subseries of events also produced by Thomas Böcker.[6]

The free of charge First Chamber Music Game Concert in 2005 was held as part of the gaming tournament GC-Cup at the Augustusplatz in Leipzig,[86] while the latter two took place in 2006, alongside a GC – Games Convention press conference event and the historical exhibition Nintendo – Vom Kartenspiel zum Game Boy of the Landesmuseum Koblenz.[87]

The four school concerts Heroes of Imagination in 2006 were intended to show differences and similarities between classical music and game music and to make orchestra concerts more accessible to a younger audience.[87] They were supported by Nintendo, Square Enix and Sega.[88] In January 2010, five additional school concerts were performed by the same orchestra. The series was entitled Super Mario Galaxy – A Musical Adventure and was the spiritual successor to the well-received Heroes of Imagination events.[89][90] Modeled after and acting as a modern-day Peter and the Wolf, the musical segments of the concerts were interspersed with narrations of the storyline of Super Mario Galaxy,[89] with the performances having been officially licensed and sponsored by Nintendo.[89]

Awards[edit]

  • 2012 Outstanding Production - Concert: Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo - music from Square Enix, Annual Game Music Awards 2012[91]
  • 2011 Best Live Concert: Symphonic Odysseys – Tribute to Nobuo Uematsu, Annual Original Sound Version Awards 2011[92]
  • 2011 Outstanding Production – Concert: Symphonic Odysseys – Tribute to Nobuo Uematsu, Annual Game Music Awards 2011[93]
  • 2011 Best RPG-Related Arranged Soundtrack: Symphonic Fantasies – music from Square Enix, RPGFan Awards 2010[94]
  • 2011 Best Live Concert: Symphonic Legends – music from Nintendo, Annual Original Sound Version Awards 2010[95]
  • 2010 Best Arranged Album – Solo / Ensemble: Symphonic Fantasies – music from Square Enix, Annual Game Music Awards 2010[96]
  • 2010 Best Concert: Symphonic Legends – music from Nintendo, Swedish LEVEL magazine[97]

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