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Postcard from GDC 2005: Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy

March 8, 2005

The venue: San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium

GDC 2005 began on a symphonic note this year, with a two-hour orchestral concert based on the music of Final Fantasy, one of the world's most popular video game franchises. The symphonic performance, known as "Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy," was performed by conductor Arnie Roth and the Symphony Silicon Valley for a packed house at San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium on Monday night.

A Warm Welcome for Nobuo Uematsu

The Music of Final Fantasy is, for all intents and purposes, the music of Nobuo Uematsu, the musical mastermind behind the popular Final Fantasy soundtracks. Uematsu, a cultural icon in Japan , has written the soundtracks to over thirty video games - including the Final Fantasy series - and was present in person for the performance on Monday evening. It was clear from his overwhelmingly positive reception that his music is equally beloved here in the U.S.

"Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy" began as a seven-concert series in Japan, and made its North American debut at last year's E3 Expo in Los Angeles . Tickets for that show sold out in a record three days, and led Square-Enix to plan a longer North American tour for 2005. Monday's performance marked the third performance of the symphony in North America .

In addition to his commercial success with the Final Fantasy games, Uematsu has achieved popular and critical acclaim for his work as well. His hit song "Eyes on Me," from Final Fantasy VIII, sold 400,000 copies in Japan , and won Song of the Year at the 1999 Japan Gold Disc Awards. Uematsu has also produced a rock album based on Final Fantasy battle music. Now, with the success of "Dear Friends," he is the first video game composer to have inspired a symphonic tour.

An Evening of Classical Symphonies

The "Dear Friends" concert in Los Angeles.

The San Francisco performance of "Dear Friends: The Music of Final Fantasy," was conducted by Grammy-award winner Arnie Roth, performed by the Symphony of Silicon Valley, and featured choral vocals by the San Jose State University Chorale. Rebecca Haarlow, a television personality associated with the Sacramento Kings, was the concert's light-hearted but energetic host.

The evening began with a powerful choral arrangement called "Liberi Fatali," the opening song from Final Fantasy VIII. Accompanying the symphonic performance were cinematic cut scenes from game itself, projected on three enormous screens at the front of the auditorium. The stunning images provided a deep resonance to the emotionally charged music, and set the stage for similar cinematic presentations throughout the evening.

The first act went on to include "Zanarkand," a melancholy theme from FFX; "Terra's Theme," from FFVI, which received resounding applause even before the first notes were played; ballads from FFIV, FFV, and FFVIII; and "Vamo' Alla Flamenco," from FFIX, featuring guest performer Tony Kaye on the flamenco guitar.

The Second Act began with the emotional "Aeris's Theme" from Final Fantasy VII, known to fans of the series for encapsulating the sadness and hope that defines the Final Fantasy universe. The set went on to feature a medley from the first three Final Fantasy games; music from the franchise's online installment, Final Fantasy XI; and a short musical excerpt from Square-Enix's forthcoming film, Final Fantasy: Advent Children.

A New Kind of Rock Star

Yet Nobuo Uematsu himself the star of the evening, entering the auditorium to a thundering welcome and receiving a standing ovation during his on-stage appearance after the Second Act.

Amidst roaring cheers and resounding applause, Uematsu spoke light-heartedly about his deep appreciation for the Final Fantasy fan base and the significance of the concert tour. He also joked with the audience about the international flavor of the video game community, and demonstrated in his personality the same balance of sincerity and humor that makes his music so remarkable.

The night ended with the brooding but energetic choral arrangement known as "One Winged Angel," from the final battle of Final Fantasy VII, which remains one of the most popular songs in the series. It was a fitting and powerful end to an evening whose symphonic magic stemmed from the heartfelt love that these concert-goers felt for Uematsu's music.


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