Over a year ago, Nintendo announced a concert series to celebrate the Legend of Zelda's 25th anniversary. Dubbed Symphony of the Goddesses, it's been touring across the length and breadth of North America since, and still has many cities to go. Last night it came to Toronto's Sony Centre for Performing Arts (how ironic that one of Nintendo's iconic franchises would be fêted in the Sony Centre), a venue whose local renown for changing names as the winds blow rivals that of Istanbul, and yours truly was in attendance.
Billed as a symphony in four movements, Symphony of the Goddesses presents the story of The Ocarina of Time, and then follows through the now-canonical timeline of the Zelda franchise, first with the Wind Waker, then Twilight Princess, and finally A Link to the Past - all with some favourites tossed in to rouse the crowd and flesh out the sound of the series.
Follow along after the jump, but for those who want the Coles Notes up-front: Symphony of the Goddesses is more than a collection of video game music; it is expertly arranged, performed with aplomb, and is a testament to how Koji Kondo is peerless in his field. If there's anything at all to complain about, it would be that not all of the music from the 25th anniversary concerts held in Tokyo, London, and Los Angeles is included in the performance, like the Boss Theme Medley and Skyward Sword's rousing Ballad of the Goddess - but with a running time that exceeded two hours and included three encores, packing in any more might feel like a bit too much.
The performance opened with a medley of music from the Zelda series (though not the same as the one from the 25th anniversary CD which came with Skyward Sword), making it immediately apparent just how symphonic the music has always been. Yes, the dungeon theme from the Legend of Zelda was originally delivered through bleeps and boops on the NES, but as with the other Zelda classics performed last night, there was no sense of it being forced on an orchestra the way some of the music at shows like Video Games Live is (I'm thinking particularly of the music from the Metroid and Sonic series), rather, it feels as though it was always meant to be so - as though Koji Kondo, back in the mid-1980s, was plotting this all along.
(For the record, I don't mean to impugn VGL, which is a rather different kind of show, and has the often difficult task of figuring out how to orchestrate music that was intended to sound 8-bit.)
Afterwards, conductor Eimear Noone introduced herself, the orchestra (comprised of local musicians), and Jeron Moore, producer of the tour. Mr. Moore outlined the
programme, dropped some un-subtle hints that it would follow the series timeline, and then the symphony proper began with the Creation of Hyrule, with visuals taken directly from The Ocarina of Time 3D.
A Multi-Media Production
Throughout the evening, scenes from the games were projected on a screen behind the orchestra. This provided context for the music and roused cheers from the audience, particularly when Link did anything bad-ass - such as burying the Master Sword to the hilt through the crown of Ganondorf's skull in The Wind Waker. Indeed, for an evening of symphony, the crowd was uncharacteristically boisterous. It is a bit odd for someone used to the polite, grey-haired restraint of the Mozart crowd, but is, in the end, rather infectious. It was perhaps the first time I've seen members of the orchestra grinning broadly at applause and laughing along with the audience. It helped that the crowd mostly refrained from noise-making outside of dramatic pauses or between pieces - though I've heard from some that audiences at productions elsewhere were not so polite. Welcome to Canada, I guess.
Now, having said that the audience was polite, it lost its sh-t entirely when Ms. Noone pulled out the Wind Waker to conduct The Wind Waker movement.
The selections themselves were very well-rounded, taking the audience through a brief history of Hyrule, and the extra compositions - the theme and dungeon medley, Kakariko Village, an Ocarina Medley, and Great Fairy's Fountain - brought the audience through many of the details that add irreplaceable texture to the franchise. The Zelda games have, after all, always been as much about the quiet flourishes and extraneous diversions as they have been about the story itself. The sound of rain beating against Hyrule Castle in the night, wearing masks just for the fun of it, birds and crickets chirping on Hyrule field, playing music to entertain frogs, seeing just how far you can push the chickens. That flavour was expertly delivered.
The visual presentation of the evening was also played expertly against the musical presentation at times. In The Ocarina of Time movement, nearly as much screen presence was given to Saria as Zelda - Saria, the forest girl whose relationship with and love for Link provides much of the heart of the game, even though Zelda's theme is nearly ubiquitous in the OoT and Saria's is heard more sparingly. The Wind Waker's buoyant Celtic tones played against images of cel-shaded children being kidnapped, their lives being threatened, an apocalypse raining from the sky, and a villain impaled alive by a boy and a girl he is trying to murder brings into stark relief the dissonance inherent in the cheery graphics and graphic storyline of the game itself. The enormous swells of the Twilight Princess score are juxtaposed against its quiet, often eerie moments, just as the game itself moves from moments of intimacy and characters bonding to explosions of bombast and visions of doom. Finally, the rather simple, if still beautiful, graphics of A Link to the Past stand in opposition to what may be the most complex and grandiose score of them all.
When the symphony was arranged, it wasn't done so by just throwing popular themes together with flashes of gameplay and cutscenes, and it shows in the end result.
Three encores followed three standing ovations, as well as Mr. Moore doing his best to incite the crowd by telling them how loud the Montréalers were, as if there is some sort of Toronto/Montréal dynamic à la Springfield and Shelbyville. (For the record, there isn't one...but it was kind of sweet to see him try.) The first encore was Link's Awakening, during which the AV system was, in a rather lovely move, turned on the orchestra to give them well-deserved attention. That was followed by the Gerudo Valley Theme, urgent as it is catchy, just as it is on the 25th anniversary disc. And, finally, the night ended with a tribute to Majora's Mask, at which point the audience lost its collective sh-t once more.
The music was generally impeccably delivered, though there were a few moments during the biggest swells of the Twilight Princess movement during which the strings threatened to drown out the choir. There were also a few times when the harp was nearly overwhelmed by the other sections - which was no fault of the harpist's, but rather a sign that they might need two of them rather than just one. (Honestly, I don't know how one harpist could do Great Fairy's Fountain without growing two or three new arms first.) Otherwise, as so often happens in Toronto, the musicians did a - as the kids say - god-tier job with relatively little time to practice prior to the show.
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is an excellent production designed by fans and insiders for fans of the series and music lovers in general. Zelda fanatics will have hours of blissful nostalgia, but the music is beautiful in its own right, and Symphony of the Goddesses knows how to put a period on that. My doting husband, who let me selfishly make this our anniversary outing, and who admitted he recognized very little of what he heard or saw on screen, declared nonetheless that he found it an impressive and entertaining night - and seeing as he a) makes a living putting these sorts of things on, and b) has no problem telling me the truth, I trust his judgment perhaps more than my own.
The music is, in the end, a reflection of the series. It is eclectic and wide-ranging but still shares a central Zelda-ness, a feel and a polish that is made all the more impressive by the symphony, which takes a twenty-five year perspective rather than (as we do, when we play the games) focusing on one title. This quality allows Symphony of the Goddesses to make a rather grand statement as you listen to it in one of dozens of stops around the continent, a statement about just how great the Zelda games are; while there are gripes to be made about any and all, they still have the power to bring a sold-out audience of over three thousand fans and doting tag-alongs to its feet.
Again, and again, and again.
Lastly, a word to the wise: Bring your 3DS if you plan on attending a future performance. The Symphony of the Goddesses is SpotPass heaven.
Programme - which may not be in order, as I forgot to bring anything to write on:
Legend of Zelda Medley
Creation of Hyrule
The Ocarina of Time
The Wind Waker
Great Fairy's Fountain
A Link to the Past