Distant Worlds; or Geek’s Night at the Symphony


On Saturday night, my mother, my brother, and I attended the Houston Symphony’s performance of “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy.”  The performance was conducted by Arnie Roth, one of the collaborators and producers of the Final Fantasy music.  Amazingly, Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of almost every Final Fantasy song ever written, was in attendance to watch the performance and answer questions at the end.

It was a spectacular performance and an extremely enjoyable evening.  Arnie Roth was an energetic and entertaining conductor who, despite forgetting the song order at one point, was a true enthusiast of Uematsu’s music.  This was my first experience with the Houston Symphony, and they proved to be clear and powerful performers, despite the somewhat small size of the symphony as a whole.  And the Houston Chorus was especially (and surprisingly) good.  There are some very very fine voices in the chorus.  The arrangements of the music were, for the most part, exactly as someone familiar with the Final Fantasy music would expect them to.

They opened with Prelude, of course, and then moved seamlessly into Liberi Fatali (VIII) – one of my personal favorites, and a particularly good show piece for the chorus.  A few of the other highlights were To Zanarkand (X), Man With the Machine Gun (VIII), and Bombing Mission (VII).  Two weaker songs, in my opinion, were:  Distant Worlds, from FF XI, which was marred somewhat by soloist, Cassandra Black, who appeared very hesitant and weak-voiced during the song, and Dear Friends (V), for which the guitar soloist, while competent, was continually drowned out by the rest of the symphony and made his entrances with considerable hesitance as well.   I was thankful to see Cassandra Black re-emerge later in the concert to sing the part of Maria in the Opera from FF VI and prove that she was in fact a very fine soprano when singing opera, which must obviously be her natural habitat (of sorts), unlike the more pop-ish Distant Worlds.

Perhaps the biggest treat of the concert was the inclusion of three “firsts” for Final Fantasy fans.  While FF XIII has been out for a few months, we were witness to the first orchestral arrangement of the music from that game, which included The Promise and Fang’s Theme (a extra-special treat for me, as Fang is one of my favorite characters).  We were also the first to hear the new orchestral arrangement of J-E-N-O-V-A from FF VII.  As the original song as entirely electronic, I was curious to hear what they would do with an orchestral arrangement.  And it was fantastic.  It was true to the general sound and feel of the original song, while being entirely fit for orchestra instruments, and the Houston Symphony performed it admirably.  The last big treat was a sneak-peek of both video and music from the upcoming game, Final Fantasy XIV.  The video looks promisingly intricate, and the music (though we received only a small sampling) seems to be on par with the rest of Uematsu’s amazing work.

However, even these treats could not quite compare to the second encore.  It came as a surprise to no one that there would be a second encore, because one particular song that everyone was anxiously expecting had not yet been performed.  It was a huge surprise, however, when Nobuo Uematsu himself came on stage to sing with the chorus for this particular song.  This song was, of course, One-Winged Angel, theme song of perhaps the most iconic character in Final Fantasy – Sephiroth.

Only one thing really marred the experience, though it was an expected drawback.  And that was the number of anime geeks who arrived as if they thought they were attending an anime convention.  Now, I am a geek, and I have no problems admitting it.  But I firmly believe it is possible to be a geek without being completely socially-inept, devoid of common courtesy, or an idiot.  Being fanatically obsessed with Final Fantasy does not excuse people from being shameless, rude, or inappropriate.  And they were not, in fact, attending a comic-con, but the Houston SYMPHONY.  And they should have behaved in a way fitting to the setting.  In other words, not running around in costumes and clown make-up (yes, some were actually in clown makeup) acting like spoiled, obnoxious children who have no social skills whatsoever (this is true for 16 year old kids all the way up to particularly scary geeks in their late 40s).  My brother is particularly short-tempered with such people, and I was half-afraid he would actually hit someone a few times.  But thankfully, once of the concert started, we were able to ignore them for the most part.  Except for the one seated next to me, who very obviously needed a shower.

Despite that single annoyance, the concert was beautiful, powerful, and exciting.  Everything I have come to expect from the great Nobuo Uematsu and anyone who works with him.