The Making Of The First Symphonic Game Music Concert In Europe

By Thomas Boecker

Although interest in game music has been growing over the last few years, it still takes a back seat to graphics and design. What's more, it often is lumped together with sound effects and voice acting by developers - and publishers - not giving it the full respect it deserves. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the idea of a European game music concert was virtually unconsidered until this year. Most assumed that there was no market for such an event.

The Symphonic Game Music concert in Leipzig, Germany disproved that notion. Performed by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra at the famous Gewandhaus hall, it was the first of its kind held outside of Japan. It attracted a sell-out crowd of approximately 2000 people, and its popularity indicates that game music can be appreciated by a wide audience -- including people who may have no interest in playing games. This article tells the story of how that event came to pass.

Perhaps at little background about myself is in order. Since 1999, I have been fortunate to work within the industry as a producer, Music Director and/or music consultant for titles like Chicago 1930 from Wanadoo, Knights of the Temple from TDK Mediactive and Stalker - Oblivion Lost from THQ Inc. As the Executive Producer of the Merregnon trilogy, a soundtrack CD set in a fantasy world, I had the chance to work with the finest game composers from around the world, including Chris Huelsbeck, Yuzo Koshiro and Fabian Del Priore. My role on the project was session manager for the live recordings, which were performed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and choir. In that role I was able to select players from famous ensembles like the New York Pops, too.

Andy Brick conducts the Czech Symphony Orchestra during one of its rehearsals.

Selecting A Venue

As the event producer, I was responsible for organizing everything related to the performance. We knew we needed to hold the concert alongside an established event, ideally one that was connected to the games industry. The Games Convention (GC) in Leipzig seemed like the perfect opportunity, as it is generally regarded as Europe's leading videogame trade fair. By scheduling the concert during GC, it would pull in people from our target audience. I impressed upon the GC show management the idea that I would most like to honor publishers who worked with live orchestras in the past. I wanted the majority of the selected compositions to have been previously recorded with this kind of ensemble. I did allow some exceptions to this rule - for example, I chose Chris Huelsbeck's "Apidya" from 1991. This music had never been performed by a live orchestra. But as Germany's most well-known composer in his field, Huelsbeck was certainly an important influence in the industry.

Fortunately, GC show management liked my proposal. We got their blessing to hold the concert during the show.

Choosing The Musical Content

Event producer (and article author) Thomas Boecker.

With the date and location established, the next decision revolved around the content. Although I was born in Germany, I didn't want the concert to focus exclusively on European game music. The goal, then, was to provide a selection from titles around the world. I wanted the program to be adventurous, so as to appeal to younger audience members. Choosing music from the greatest games of recent years would help in that respect, and would also show that the most successful productions also use a live musical score. My plan was to assemble about 70 minutes, brought together in an interesting juxtaposition of Asian, European and American titles to showcase and contrast various musical styles. Fortunately, my recent work on Merregnon provided me with many industry contacts including conductors, orchestras and composers.

The Management Team

Three of us acted as musical directors for the concert: Andy Brick, Petr Pycha, and me. Andy Brick (composer of Sim City 4: Rush Hour and The Sims 2) was responsible for getting the scores, checking them and making suggestions for changes that would make them work better in a live performance. One of his bigger challenges was to establish a format for people to deliver submissions to us. Perhaps Brick's most important task, however, was learning the material and preparing everything for the rehearsals and the concert's conductor.

The Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, where the concert was held.

Petr Pycha (the orchestra contractor for Splinter Cell and EverQuest 2) also had his hands full. His major tasks were to book the orchestra and manage the transportation of the musicians from Prague to Leipzig. Additionally, he saw to it that somebody was available to work with the parts for the orchestra and that the sheet music was printed locally.

My job was to make sure everyone knew what was going on and had access to the latest information about the project. We set up a database on the Internet, in which we used to store contact information for the composers, orchestrators, Andy Brick and Petr Pycha, and the management of the Games Convention, among other things.

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Organizing The Event

The work of organizing the concert began in mid-April, 2003. The first point of business was to contact the publisher of each game to get approval to feature its music. This communication was a major part of my job. There were a number of legal issues that we needed to solve, and trying to convince people to support an event that had never been held outside of Japan was very intense.

There were numerous stumbling blocks. For instance, when informing companies about our idea, we had to locate the person who was actually responsible for giving us the necessary permission to play the music. On the bright side, I think upcoming events similar to ours will benefit from our efforts, because most of the bigger publishers now have somebody designated to answer questions pertaining to this type of event.

Next, we had to contact the composers of the original pieces to talk to them about existing orchestrations and adapt the music to the orchestra we had. Once we got the material, we waited for Andy Brick to review it, and then we discussed any changes with the involved parties. Afterward, the scores were sent to the people responsible for parts extraction in Prague. This is generally how the process went, although I can assure you it didn't always go smoothly.

Concert Program

Title

Composer/Speaker

Opening fanfare

Andy Brick

Headhunter
Suite

Richard Jacques

Welcome Address:
Werner M. Dornscheidt

President and CEO of
Leipziger Messe GmbH

Keynote Speech
Andrew P. Mooney

Chairman of Disney
Consumer Products Worldwide

Final Fantasy VII
Aeris's Theme

Nobuo Uematsu

Outcast
Suite

Lennie Moore

Opening address
Stanislaw Tillich

Minister
Head of Government of the Free State of Saxony

Merregnon Soundtrack - Volume 2
Suite

Fabian Del Priore
Markus Holler
Andy Brick
Olof Gustafsson

Shenmue
Main Theme

Ryuji Iuchi
Takenobu Mitsuyoshi

Tom Clancy´s Splinter Cell
Main Theme

Alexandre Desplat

Quest for Glory V
Overture

Chance Thomas

Mafia - The City Of Lost Heaven
Main Theme

Vladimir Simunek

Harry Potter and
the Chamber of Secrets

Suite

Jeremy Soule

Spellforce - The Order of Dawn
Introduction

Pierre Langer
Tilman Sillescu

Primal
Suite

Andrew Barnabas
Paul Arnold

The Legend of Zelda - The Wind Waker
The Great Sea

Kenta Nagata

Tom Clancy´s Rainbow Six 3:
Raven Shield

Main Theme

Bill Brown

Apidya
Suite

Chris Hülsbeck

Medal of Honor - Rising Sun
Suite

Christopher Lennertz

Final Fantasy
Final Fantasy

Nobuo Uematsu

Another difficulty we ran into was obtaining the scores for some of the games. For a few of the newer titles we wanted to feature, it was surprisingly difficult to track down the original sheet music. In some cases, after deep investigation, we were forced to rebuild, reorchestrate or fix the material within the short time that we had, because the original work had been lost. Needless to say, this put a lot of pressure on Andy Brick. Being the conductor, not only did he have to learn all the scores, he also had to review the works to make sure that it would be possible to perform them in concert. This was an intense task and required all of his concentration, which he gave almost 24 hours a day leading up to the event.

One big job was gathering and editing the text for the concert program. We needed descriptions of every game whose music we intended to play, and that text had to be written and double-checked by the publishers. Thankfully, we had help from Christian Wirsig (author of a German book The Lexicon of Video Games) on this aspect of the project.

Rehearsals In Prague

The rehearsals in Prague started on Monday, May 18th. We were allotted two six-hour days in which to practice with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. Andy Brick and I chose the titles to practice, taking into consideration the difficulty levels of the music so as not to overwork the musicians too quickly. As expected, the musicians were able to perform the scores with relative ease. This was a relief, but it did little to alleviate the stress on our conductor, since he was still checking scores up until the last day before he left from New York. However, because Czech Orchestras are popular among game music recordings, a few of the players in the orchestra were already familiar with several of the scores, which made the rehearsals somewhat easier.

The Concert Day Arrives

The Czech symphony on stage at the concert.
[Click to enlarge...]

Finally, on August 20, 2003, the big day arrived. As scheduled, the orchestra arrived a few hours before the start of the event, as did conductor Andy Brick and the orchestra contractor, Petr Pycha. We had one final rehearsal on site so that we could go through every piece again, ensuring that the audio characteristics were correct (there are significant differences between the acoustics of a recording studio and a concert hall).

The event sold out, which was great news.

At seven o'clock, the doors opened and crowds began to fill the auditorium. As I expected, the audience consisted of people of all ages, from teenagers to seniors. I found it interesting that we could offer something to all different ages.

Andy Brick conducting at the concert.

At eight o'clock, the concert began. To start things off, Werner M. Dornscheidt, the President and CEO of Leipziger Messe GmbH, gave a welcome address, followed by an opening speech from Stanislaw Tillich, a government minister. Andrew Mooney, the Chairman of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide, also spoke.

The musical program consisted of scores from Final Fantasy, Shenmue, Primal, Splinter Cell, Mafia, Medal of Honor, Headhunter, and more. When the concert concluded, the audience applauded for ten minutes, which was extremely gratifying.

 

The event was covered by several major media outlets, including German TV stations, the BBC and the New York Times. In radio interviews with audience members after the event, people admitted that they had never realized the quality of these compositions before and were very interested in learning more about game music.

In an interview, a Final Fantasy fan went so far as to state that the concert had been one of the best moments of his life. Generally the responses were fantastic and we couldn't have been more pleased. Many of the featured composers attended the event. Nobuo Uematsu, Christopher Lennertz, Olof Gustafsson, Richard Jacques and Andrew Barnabas were among those who traveled to Germany. A wonderful aspect of the event was that afterwards, all the composers met at a restaurant to talk. Musicians from Germany, England, Sweden, the United States and Japan all sat down and shared their knowledge, experiences and passion for music.

Composer Nobuo Uematsu looks on as his music from Final Fantasy is played.

More Concerts To Come

Game music concerts are now attracting the attention of people worldwide. Similar events are in the planning stages, the next being a series of six Final Fantasy concerts in towns across Nihon, Japan in 2004. Hopefully the Game Music Symphony will pave the way, now that the concert in Leipzig has proven that there is significant interest in this kind of event outside of Japan. It would be nice to see concerts such like ours become common throughout the world, celebrating this unique and special art.



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