A little over a week from now, I’ll be settling into a seat at the Edinburgh Playhouse for the first ever Scottish performance of Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds, a live orchestral performance of selections from the Final Fantasy soundtracks. This evening concert promises to be something special: the Royal Scottish National Orchestra will be the first in the UK to perform pieces newly introduced to the tour, and Final Fantasy XIII composer Masashi Hamauzu will be in attendance.
“It is always my greatest joy working with many of the world’s greatest musicians, and helping the discovery process of learning these wonderful scores from Final Fantasy is always rewarding,” said tour conductor Arnie Roth when I asked him about the challenges of the tour. “We are always adding new pieces to the tour repertoire, and right now is a particularly busy time, with the 25th Anniversary of Final Fantasy happening this year. We are adding many new pieces, new orchestrations and arrangements, co-ordinating all of this with the original composers themselves, and with SQEX.”
Naturally, I ask Roth how he came to land the role of conductor in the first place – was it an aspiration to conduct video game soundtrack performances? “I never anticipated my involvement in so many concerts of video game music,” he replies. “It resulted from my work all over the music industry – movie soundtracks, video game soundtracks, music director and conductor for many of the world’s top artists, and music director and conductor of many orchestras around the world.”
“As music director of the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra, we presented the first public concert of the music of Final Fantasy in Chicago in February 2005. That was the first time I met Nobuo Uematsu, and we immediately struck a very significant and important relationship working together during the concert, Dear Friends: music from Final Fantasy. My involvement blossomed incrementally from that point.”
Having that much experience in conducting video game concerts should lend Roth some insight into industry attitudes towards video game concerts. I remember the first time I attended a concert of video game music, the well-known Video Games Live in Dundee’s Caird Hall in 2008, and even I was sceptical of its merit. I did leave hugely impressed; the show was genuinely enjoyable, and orchestral renditions of my favourite game themes elicited waves of happy memories. I ask Roth, then: do you believe professional attitudes towards these performances have at all changed?
“I have noticed that orchestras and presenters have definitely changed from their initial reticence,” he admits. “At first, they simply were not sure that a concert of video game music was a viable concert event on its own. I find that once the musicians of the orchestra start working on these scores with me, they embrace the music itself for its very high quality. And as soon as they see the audiences’ enthusiasm, they understand that the fans are truly excited to hear these pieces brought to life on the concert stage.”
Although starting years ago, this is the Distant Worlds tour’s first stop in Scotland, which prompted me to ask whether this particular show would be approached any differently. It’s not necessarily a landmark gig – we’re a wee country, after all – but Arnie tells me “the process of deciding the particular programming in each concert is actually quite challenging!”
“I consider whether it is our first appearance in that city, whether we have a choir and suitable soloists for the great amount of scores in our library, how much rehearsal time we have, etc. and in this case, I was also being mindful of the London concerts in Royal Albert Hall. In Edinburgh, I am happy to report that we will be able to perform premières of many Final Fantasy scores never before performed in the UK.”
“The premières include Final Fantasy V: Dear Friends, Final Fantasy IX: Vamo’ alla Flamenco, Final Fantasy VIII: The Man With The Machine Gun, Final Fantasy XIII: Fabula Nova Crystallis (The Promise), Final Fantasy VIII: Fisherman’s Horizon, and Final Fantasy X: Suteki da ne, which will be sung by Susan Calloway, who is the original vocalist featured on the most recent release, FFXIV. We are also very fortunate to have the composer of Final Fantasy XIII with us, attending the concert and meeting the fans in Edinburgh.”
“We have done quite a bit of research into the music scores, working directly with the composers Nobuo Eumatsu, Masashi Hamauzu, Naoshi Mizuta, and Hitoshi Sakimoto,” he added. “We are also checking how the music is integrated into actual gameplay, and SQEX has provided us with quite a bit of background information and materials to work with.”
Finally, I pose the most important question of all: what is his favourite arrangement from the tour? “We often ponder that question, but Nobuo and I have decided that there are just too many scores that we can’t be without to try and choose a favourite.”
Tickets and further information for the Edinburgh Playhouse performance of Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds on November 4th are available here.