In May 2004, Los Angeles, California, hosted North America's premier symphonic concert of orchestrated video game music. The concert was none other than Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy, which was not the same concert that was held in Japan in February 2002. The concert featured arranged music, from famed video game music composer, Nobuo Uematsu, played by a live orchestra and choir. The show opened to a warm reception and left fans of Uematsu's music wanting more. It wasn't long afterwards that the announcement of a North American tour of the Dear Friends program was made, with the first stop in Chicago, Illinois.
"The orchestra was virtually perfect..."
The Chicagoland POPS Orchestra and Festival Choir performed to a sold-out crowd on February 19, at the Rosemont Theatre. Crowds of people lined up outside the building in 20-degree weather before being allowed in to take their seats. Though most people were dressed appropriately for the show, the house was not without a few die-hard fans decked out in clothes based on characters from the Final Fantasy series. If one were so inclined, the show's program could be purchased for $20 and posters and t-shirts were also being sold for $10 and $20 respectively. In the concert hall itself was, of course, the stage. Suspended above the stage were three large screens, which displayed various scenes from different Final Fantasy games, corresponding to the song being performed at the time.
The crowd burst into applause when Mr. Uematsu himself emerged into the seating area to take his seat among his fans, which was exciting, to say the least. In fact, the concert master appeared shortly afterward to virtually no notice and little applause. After the orchestra was tuned, the conductor, Mr. Arnie Roth appeared and took his place at the head of the orchestra. After opening the show with a powerful rendition of FFVIII's Liberi Fatali, the introductions were made, and Gene Honda appeared as the night's Master of Ceremonies.
The entire concert ran roughly an hour and a half. The program included the following pieces:
Liberi Fatali (FFVIII)
Terra's Theme (FFVI)
Theme of Love (FFIV)
Dear Friends (FFV)
Vamo' Alla Flamenco (FFIX)
Love Grows (FFVIII)
Aeris's Theme (FFVII)
Not Alone (FFIX)
Final Fantasy I-III Medley
New Melody from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
Though the entire show was impressive, there were a few noteworthy pieces. The orchestral rendition of Zanarkand was a breath-taking new approach to the formerly piano-only piece. Vamo' Alla Flamenco, with the live classical guitar, was done brilliantly with the inclusion of a full orchestra. Furthermore, Aeris's Theme, probably the key piece in the show, received a standing ovation from the audience. The only disappointment with the program was that it felt more like a popular music concert, than a symphonic concert. The audience cheered and applauded at the end of every piece and, in some cases, in the middle of a song. Though this may not seem like a problem for some, this is not usual concert etiquette and can be considered quite annoying by those who want to hear the music uninterrupted by cheers and hollers.
After the last piece played, Maestro Arnie Roth invited Nobuo Uematsu on stage for a few words to his fans. Being unable to speak English, he was accompanied by a translator. In his speech, after joking with the audience a bit for some laughs, Nobuo hinted at the continuation of the Dear Friends concert tour, in San Francisco, and at the idea of a global tour. He also hinted at the possibility of a U.S. tour of his rock band, the Black Mages. Before leaving the stage, Mr. Uematsu announced one last piece, unlisted in the program, as an encore: One-winged Angel, the most well-received piece of the night.
The presentation of the concert was very well-executed. The orchestra was virtually perfect and was accompanied on some of the pieces by a flawless choir. From the gripping first lines of Liberi Fatali to the last note of One-winged Angel, the concert created and maintained a level of excitement and energy well beyond the end of the show. The program proved that video game music is more-than-worthy of being recognized as a valid form of music for any audience. Whether one is a fan of Uematsu's music or not, they should be able to appreciate how well the show sounded and was pulled off. For those who were fans of Uematsu's music to begin with, this show was, at the very least, a night to remember.