Passion! Concert Report
Earlier this month (December 2006), two concerts took place in Australia. Presented by Eminence and featuring special guests Yasunori Mitsuda and Hitoshi Sakimoto (composer of Final Fantasy Tactics). From what we've learned, Mitsuda and the musicians had a great time, and recording has taken place for a commercial album of orchestral video game music that we can expect in the future. But how did things go at the concerts, and what did Mitsuda think of the experience? Let's find out from an anonymous person in attendance. This feature is a two-parter, starting with a first hand account and moving on to a Chrono Compendium exclusive interview. The feature will be interspersed with images shamelessly lifted from Eminence Online's blog.
A First Hand Account
I arrived at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music at about 7:15pm where there was a queue outside of people who were buying ‘at the door’ tickets. There was nothing much to do, seeing that I preordered my ticket nearly a month prior to the event, so I made my way inside Verbrugghen Hall and located my seat. The hall was lovely, very old but modern in a sense, and started packing up fast. The instrumental setup was already on-stage. There was a mass amount of percussion gear, though I figured the role would be pretty demanding and needing of all the stuff. The show didn’t start till about 15 minutes overtime due to, as mentioned before, the long line of people lining up. When the show started, the MC came onstage and announced the musicians, where they performed their first piece:
The “Digimon Arrangement” was a composition by Hitoshi Sakimoto from the game “Digimon Savers: Another Mission”, and was specially arranged for the concert by Sakimoto. It was particularly bouncy theme, which made vibrant use of all instruments. Natalia Raspopova, who was the pianist, demonstrated her talent by performing hard arpeggios and scales. It was a somewhat obscure choice from a quietly released title, but it makes me want to check out the game just for the music.
Following this, the MC came back to introduce the composers, walking on to the music “Victory” from Final Fantasy XII. Yasunori Mitsuda and Hitoshi Sakimoto came onstage, Mitsuda with his bouzouki with semi-casual gear, and Sakimoto, who wore semi-formal suit. Mitsuda first said something in Japanese to the audience before the MC read out the English version of his speech. In summary, he thanked the musicians and the audience. Then, Sakimoto approached the microphone and spoke in English, saying, basically, a similar speech. The audience clapped and Sakimoto made his way down the isle and sat and watched with the audience. Mitsuda stayed onstage, where the MC came out and announced that he will play the bouzouki in the next piece:
“Is Kirite Burning Up?”
All those familiar with the original track with the vocalist Eri Kawai will surely notice that her voice is replaced by Hiroaki Yura and Ayako Ishikawa’s violins. Jy-Perry Banks, brother of the guitarist, Zane Banks, was a special ‘last minute’ guest bassist for the evening and played exceptionally well with his brother, who played the electric guitar. Mitsuda didn’t do any bouzouki solos, simply rhythmic material but he added additional texture to the piece. About mid-way through the track, Zane cranks up an improvised guitar solo which was amazing! All in all, a fantastic piece.
Mitsuda then left the stage, and concert resumed:
Nothing too special with the arrangement here, minor melodic changes. This time it was just the violins and the piano. It was short and sweet, but the harmony with the second violin in the piece’s peak was definitely welcomed.
The MC then came back to introduce the next 3 pieces:
“Dream Shore Bordering Another World”
Fans of the Chrono Cross OST will recognize this track in an instant. The performance itself was like live-version of the original: perfect. The violins played the melody, as like the original, with the piano provided ostinato backup. The guitar was used exceptionally well too, and my only criticism here is that it was too short.
This was one of the best pieces performed, thanks to the awesomeness of the original theme by Hitoshi Sakimoto. The melody was magnificent (I remember prior to the release of the FFXII OST and with the gamerip that this track was Matsuo’s) though it sounded slightly watered down with only 2 violins opposed to the synth string ensemble. I’m just amazed at the talent of the performers to be able to keep up with such a difficult choice.
People who have heard the OST will realize that this piece is no different to the Piano version of the track. Still, a lovely performance.
The next two tracks were from Kirite, Yasunori Mitsuda’s solo album:
“Promise with Winds ~ Petal’s Whereabouts”
This was another brilliantly performed track, which rivaled the original recording. Again, Kawai’s voice is replaced by a violin. The result sounds a lot smoother and more subtle, but the change is good.
This piece stuck more closely to the original. Only 2 instruments, which were again violin and piano. The piano started off playing the original prelude before moving into the main section, which Natalia then performed a bit faster than should be, making the other Hiroaki and Ayako catch up. Nothing major, but those picky about mistakes (like myself!) would pick it up…
Ayako performed the next track alone with Natalia:
This was a piece which I had never heard of before, but yet the melody was strangely familiar. All I can say is that it was well performed.
The MC then announced the last 4 tracks before the interval, being a mixture of themes from games, animes and movies:
One of the only character themes from the Final Fantasy XII OST, this track was performed with a minimalist touch. The two violins played the familiar melody, and newly arranged in was the guitar which transformed the track so it sounded more ‘familiar’ or ‘cozy’. I liked it, though I felt the original had more depth and mean to it.
Again, this is a theme I had not heard before (simply because I limit myself from listening to too much Kajiura as I’m not a huge fan). It was very nice actually, and made excellent use of all instruments onstage. There was a purposely cacophonic part in the middle, which I thought was a mistake originally. Quite good overall.
“Super Mario Brothers”
This seems to be a traditional track performed at every Eminence concert, though they arrange it differently every time. This time, before the piece, the performers went offstage for about a minute, leaving the audience wondering what was happening. Then, they came out wearing Santa Claus hats. The audience started laughing, and then the piece commenced. The theme had all the prominent Mario themes, including, obviously, the main theme, the underground theme, starman and more.
“Whole New World”
This was the last track from the first half. It’s the popular theme from the Disney film, Aladdin. The piano part kept close to the original score, but the rest was refreshingly new. Not much to comment about here, other than you’d like this version if you’re a fan of the original.
It was now the interval, and the audience had the chance to get up and buy merchandise from the foyer outside. The MC also announced that people could win a copy of the FFXII OST if they filled out surveys. Surprisingly, MANY people did. There was some of Mitsuda’s CDs available for sale, including an cinnuiuint, Hako no Niwa, Moonlit Shadow, Kirite, Sailing to the World, Sailing to the World Piano Score and Chrono Cross Guitar Arrange. Since I didn’t have Sailing to the World Piano Score, Hako no Niwa, Sailing to the World or Moonlit Shadow, I decided to buy them, which totaled my Mitsuda CD collection to an even 15 CDs and 1 score book. You could also see Mitsuda’s assistant and Procyon Studio manager Yoshie Miyajima supervising her merchandise.
The interval was about 15 minutes long before the bell rang and it was time to go back inside. The MC called Mitsuda back to the stage with his bouzouki to perform in the piece:
people of Eminence
“Sailing to the World”
I’m not a gigantic fan of the original piece, particularly the vocals, so this arrangement was a nice change. Like the other Kirite pieces, the vocals were replaced by the violins with supporting instrumentation from Mitsuda, the guitar, the piano and some pleasant rhythmic work by Joshua Hill. I thought the performance was very good, and no doubt gives the original a run for its money.
Mitsuda then left stage. The next piece:
I think this is the only theme performed on the evening from Kirite that I actually prefer the original recording to. Still, a lot of parts were transcribed directly, so, if you think about it, it’s actually like hearing the original…
Again, the MC comes out to announce the next two pieces:
Now, I’ve never seen Haibane Renmei”, I’m not familiar with Yoshitoshi Abe, but I do like Kow Otani and I do consider myself a fan of his. “Free Bird” was exceptional. An ideal combination of piano, violin, percussion and guitar that awakens a sort of warm feeling. Very nice.
Hitoshi Sakimoto’s album, Colours of Life, marked his first album away from video game music. “Ferris Wheel” was one of the best pieces on the album, not because of Lia’s vocals, but for the dramatic, epic piano accompaniment. That didn’t change from original piece, but Lia’s voice was well replaced by the two violins that provided an enchanting sound.
I had not heard of next piece but it was again a reasonably popular folk tune:
I can’t really comment about the piece itself, but it was catchy. Ayako performed this piece with Natalia on piano.
Following was a piece I had been dying to hear performed live:
Hitoshi Sakimoto’s ending theme to the game, Legaia Duel Saga, is, IMO, one of his best compositions. Everything from the emotional “Paying the Worthless War” to the dramatic finale, this track has everything. I was expecting a superb arrangement to be performed, and my wish and expectation was thankfully fulfilled. This is one of the main reasons that I attended the concert, and the piano by itself justifies it. Natalia does extremely well to live up to the original, with all string parts being played by both violins. Excellent.
I was a bit skeptical about how this piece would turn out, but other than a few mistakes from the guitar in the introduction, it was played flawlessly. Noriko Mitose’s soft, child-like voice is matched by the mature sound of the violin. The ending of the track, as with the original, is tremendous. There’s not a lot more I can say about it. It’s that good.
Another piece from Kow Otani, this time from Shadow of the Colossus. It was a piano solo, but it was performed a little too fast. Other than that, it was quite enjoyable.
Again, the MC comes out to introduce the next few tracks:
“When You Wish Upon a Star”
This is from another Disney film, Pinocchio, and it was again, only Ayako and Natalia onstage. They portrayed a dreamy effect which you could doze off to, keeping the traditional melody.
I had never heard of the title before, but I had heard the piece many times. Again, the two performers stayed onstage to perform this, and it was quite enjoyable to hear live.
After this, the MC came back onstage to say that if anyone had any additional surveys they needed to fill out, they should hand them to the ushers in the aisle for collection, and that they would draw the winning survey at the end of the show, with that person winning a FFXII OST. Anyway, the show continued:
“Two of Us”
I can’t remember this piece too well because I was filling out a survey at the time. :P Too bad.
The MC then came out for the last time before the show’s end to thank the sponsors and such. He also announced that Mitsuda would come back on stage to perform on the bouzouki “Chrono Cross – Time’s Scar”. However, after he left the stage, Hiroaki started talking about next year’s A Night in Fantasia, which is Eminence’s trademark event. He said that it will be split into 2 events, one known as A Night in Fantasia – Symphonic Games Edition, and the other known as A Night in Fantasia – Symphonic Anime Edition. He said that both concerts would play solely the video game pieces and anime pieces from a huge amount of games. He also said that 6 guests would be coming to the Symphonic Games Edition, including Jason Hayes, Junichi Nakatsuru (Bandai Namco), Masaru Shiina (Bandai Namco), Yoko Shimomura, Yasunori Mitsuda and Hitoshi Sakimoto. It certainly made me want to go to the event already!
After, the musicians came back onstage with Mitsuda, to perform:
Before the piece began, the musicians put on sunglasses, including Mitsuda, to which the audience laughed. But all jokes aside, this piece was amazing. It stuck very closely to the version on the original soundtrack, but you could hear the main differences, including a more prominent piano role. The violinists played very hard to keep up with the pace, and Joshua Hill put on an extremely awesome drum beat to maintain temp. Mitsuda definitely would have been proud to hear such a great performance of one of his most prized themes.
“A Song of Storm and Fire”
Yet another Yuki Kajiura piece, but I really enjoyed this one. Not due to melody, but the incredible percussion. Very apocalyptic sounding and a definite a foot taper. A great way to finish off the program.
After that piece, the audience took a bow and went off stage and then came back on again for a final bow. The MC came on stage with two copies of the Final Fantasy XII OST and announced that due to the amount of surveys they received, they would draw two winners. He called Sakimoto to come back to the stage to draw the winners. The first winner was a teenager who was called to the stage to claim his prize and shake the hand of Sakimoto. He asked him if he could hug him, and did so, the audience immediately laughing. The second winner was a middle-aged man, to which the audience laughed again, as he came onstage. After that, both the MC and Sakimoto left the stage. Hiroaki then asked the audience if anyone liked Seiken Densetsu, with a few shouting back, “YES!” This followed on to the encore piece:
For those that don’t know, this track is the final battle to the game, Secret of Mana, or Seiken Densetsu 2. Now, this was an awesome piece. The violin parts were insanely fast and the percussionist pumped and pounded his instrument. But the best part no doubt was the bass. It was so catchy and, well, awesome. I do hope that this track will be on the Passion CD when it comes out. So very awesome.
The audience cheered and wowed at the performers onstage. Hiroaki then called Mitsuda back to the stage to perform another encore piece, this time, “Time’s Scar” again (without the sunglasses :P).
After the show, everybody had the chance to meet and greet with the guest composers and the musicians. The line was very long, so I waited till it became a little shorter for my turn. In the end, I came to “Passion” hoping to get a great night out of it, and what I received was an outstanding performance. I look foreword to both A Night in Fantasia concerts in 2007.
WHOA COMPENDIUM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!!!11
Here's the juicy, Compendium-only part. Many thanks to the almighty He Who Answered Our Inquiry; may he enjoy much fanfare for the concert.
1. So what was the atmosphere of the event like?
It was great to see all the people attending the event. I went to both Australian concerts, and I must say that I haven't felt this much energy from an audience in any Eminence concert (that I have been to).
2. Did the orchestra seem anxious, or were they pretty calm and prepared to play great music?
Well, if by orchestra you mean ensemble, then I'd have to say they weren't nervous at all. They were actually very anxious to get on stage and let loose some of their material. Quite good, I must say.
3. Who were in the stars in attendance?
The guest stars were none other than Hitoshi Sakimoto (of the Final Fantasy XII fame) and Yasunori Mitsuda (of the Chrono series fame).
4. What were they like, and how did they interact with people?
They were both extremely friendly people and the audience loved them (who wouldn't?) Can't say much more than that. :p
5. Did they have some merchandise there for fans?
Mr. Mitsuda and his manager Yoshie Miyajima brought over all of his Procyon Studio produced CDs, which was quite nice if you are the frantic type who is afraid of online shopping. Still, not exactly the cheapest CDs available, but it certainly beats paying shipping!
6. What were some of the songs played?
There were 26 pieces performed, all from a variety of different games. About a little less than half were from Mitsuda and there were about 4 or 5 from Sakimoto. The rest were from other games or anime. Game titles included were: Digimon, Final Fantasy XII, Xenosaga, Xenosaga II, Super Mario Brothers, The Seventh Seal (Sailing to the World), Legaia Duel Saga, Chrono Cross and Shadow of the Colossus. Anime titles included: .hack//Liminality, Haibane Renmei and Tsubasa Chronicle. Miscellaneous include: Kirite, Dance Macabre, Hungarian Dance and Jalousie.
7. What will the recording process be like?
The recording will contain the best of the pieces performed on the evening. Some of the tracks have been artistically directed by Mr. Sakimoto and Mr. Mitsuda, so that's kind of a bonus!
8. So how big was the orchestra playing?
There were 5 people performing on the Melbourne and Singapore shows, and 6 people in the Sydney performance (a last minute bassist was added). Mr. Mitsuda also performed in certain Chrono Cross tracks and Kirite tracks.
9. Does Passion! have any future touring plans?
Nah, aside from the recently finished Singapore, the tour is officially finished.
10. What's the best part of this experience been? Were the special guests happy to attend and perhaps open to coming to more VGM concerts?
The best part for me was to be able to really connect with the team I worked with (in both Melbourne and Sydney). They truly are amazing people and they really make the cogs of Eminence turn. Meeting the composers who I have longed to talk to was also incredible. It's great to meet inspiring people!
You can learn more about the forces that coalesced to make the concert possible at Eminence Online's blog. Check out their notes on the upcoming A Night in Fantasia 2007 concert, and stay tuned for the forthcoming album. It's been a wild ride and we look forward to the continued vivacity of Eminence's musical workings.
High-resolution shots of Mitsuda recording: