Philharmonia Fantasy

By Nick Atkinson

A scene from the video game series Final Fantasy, which has inspired Final Symphony.  Picture:  Barbara Williams/2010
A scene from the video game series Final Fantasy, which has inspired Final Symphony. Picture: Barbara Williams/2010

Everywhere all over the world the halls are full!" beams conductor Eckehard Stier.

He is returning to Auckland to lead the APO through music originally composed for the role-playing computer game series Final Fantasy. Auckland is one stop on a sell-out world tour for Final Symphony, which features music from Final Fantasy VI, VII and X written by Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu.

"The audience is often aged between 15 and 30, but what is interesting to me is the silence in the audience. The orchestra hears it," says Stier, the outgoing APO music director who conducted the London Symphony Orchestra for the album recording of Final Symphony at Abbey Road Studios.

Unlike the music that scores the computer games, the upcoming Final Symphony series of concerts is based around a conventional symphony in three movements. Stier describes it as a "real landmark" in the game music industry.

"We don't play concerts with big screens as we must focus on the orchestra. We tried to serve a little bit of everything to give other members of the audience who aren't familiar with the Final Fantasy game a way in. There's a lot of soaring love themes and at the end of the symphony, the music is very colourful."

In recent years, the gaming industry and orchestras have increasingly worked together. Last year, The Telegraph reported that soundtracks to video games were bringing new listeners to classical music, based on a poll that showed three of the top 20 Classic FM's Hall of Fame were soundtracks to video games.

DJ John Suchet told the newspaper: "I didn't expect to be thanking the video game industry for introducing the genre to a new generation of people, but it's wonderful."

Eighteen months ago, Uematsu, a long-time composer for computer games, was a guest at Abbey Road Studios to hear the London Symphony Orchestra record arrangements of his Final Fantasy scores.

According to Stier, the pony-tailed legend of the gaming industry was visibly moved while listening to the sessions go down. Stier describes Uematsu has an incredible man with a special sense of humour and a serious commitment to his work.

Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu is considered to be one of the most respected composers in the video games industry.
Japanese composer Nobuo Uematsu is considered to be one of the most respected composers in the video games industry.

"They've developed fragments of melodies I wrote into highly sophisticated music", says Uematsu, adding he was delighted to be at Abbey Road Studios. "For most people of my generation in Japan, this is the most iconic studio there is and one I've most admired. Much of the music we were listening to as we grew up was made here.

"It's a dream come true to come here and record my music. I never imagined 20 years ago that I would be able to work with these brilliant orchestras. It's a little like seeing your own timid child grow up and turn into an adult without even realising it. This child is not that talented, but he is somehow likeable and good with people. With the support of these people he has grown up to be a fine man."

Stier has been conducting these sorts of programmes since 2008, when he first met Uematsu.

"It's always big fun; he's incredibly generous. We turned the main melodies and the main ideas of Uematsu into something truly symphonic. These arrangements sometimes remind me of Mahler," he says.

The jet-setting conductor has recently completed another lap of the globe, returning to his home in Dresden before spending a couple of days on the shores of Lago Maggiore. It was back in 2007 that the APO first appointed Stier as its musical director.

"It was a fantastic time. Sometimes I flew three or four times around the world. The whole time was absolutely fantastic," he says. "That's what I really loved all the time I was here; the APO has a very warm sound and with the venues it's a special sound and I love it."

The popularity of the Final Symphony programme has meant the APO and piano soloist Stephen de Pledge are booked for a second night at the ASB Theatre after just one concert was originally planned. At the time of writing, tickets were still available for this concert.

- NZ Herald

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