Interview: The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Concerts

E3 is coming up in just a couple of weeks time, and attendees everywhere are thrilled by the events that will be happening inside and outside the show.  One event that’s worth noting is an upcoming performance from The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, which will take place on June 6th at the legendary Greek Theater.  Fans everywhere will want to check this show out, as their favorite Zelda themes are recreated in thunderous force.

To get an idea of what to expect from the show, as well as how it was put together, we chatted with producer and lead creative for the Symphony series, Jeron Moore.  Needless to say, the answers are sure to be satisfactory to Nintendo fanboys everywhere…

GameZone: First off, out of all their franchises, why do you think that the Legend of Zelda is the most fitting for a symphonic concert?

Jeron Moore: Well, first of all — I'm a diehard Zelda fan. When I think back on my childhood, that shiny gold cartridge is one of the first images that pop into my mind.  I just love the story, the mythology, the characters, and of course the music. That said, music is really strong in a lot of Nintendo's franchises, and I think a great concert could be made out of each and every one of them. I mean, how cool would a Star Fox or Metroid concert be? But in terms of "why Zelda?"...

One of the very first VG concerts happened in '91 and was recorded w/ the Tokyo City Philharmonic — it was simply called "Game Music Concert," and it featured lush orchestral arrangements from Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and more. When I was 13 or 14 and poking around on the Internet, I came across a recording of the Zelda piece from this concert; it was the first time I'd ever heard that theme brought to life by live players. It was pure magic. My imagination exploded. Since then, Zelda has basically become repertoire for the video game concert circuit. You just can't put on a show without it... it would be heresy.

Until recent years, I didn't completely understand what attracted me so prevalently to Zelda over other fantasy/adventure titles; I mean yeah, I love the whole hero rescuing the princess, battling monsters, opening treasure chests, I think we all do… but then Nintendo game designer and producer Shigeru Miyamoto revealed the reason behind giving the main character the name "Link." It seems that it was always his intention for Link, the protagonist, to serve as a conduit or "link" between the player and the game itself. You aren't assuming the role of some pre-established, pre-written character; Miyamoto says that YOU are Link, and in a way you are writing his story. It's such a simple idea, but how beautiful is that? 

I think Koji Kondo's music operates on a similar, visceral plane; clearly, the technical execution has become more complex over the years, the first title featuring mere 8-bit chiptunes, but the melodies, for me, they represent the soul of the franchise. They've given these stories and adventures emotional context, color, and texture that can't be illustrated or delivered by the visual medium alone.

GZ: How many shows have you guys performed now?  How has the reception been?

JM: In October of 2011 we had 3 one-time-only performances of the 25th Anniversary Symphony: Tokyo, Los Angeles and London. Earlier this year in January, we launched the new show in my hometown with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and several trips later June 6th at the Greek Theatre will mark our 10th performance of the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. Time has flown by, but it's been a lot of fun. Reception has been incredible! People are loving the show; and I say 'people,' not just fans — because we have audience members coming from all backgrounds and demographics, some not knowing anything about The Legend of Zelda or its music; some never having attended an orchestral concert in their life! If they weren't a fan walking in, the conversion rate of non-fan to fan seems to be super high when they walk out! As a result, Zelda is really affording us the rare privilege to introduce a whole new generation to the timeless and treasured medium of symphonic performance. That's super cool.

GZ: Do you get a lot of Zelda fans in the audience?  People who cosplay as Link and such?

JM: Oh yeah. Zelda fans are everywhere and they are turning out in droves to hear their favorite tunes performed live by a symphony orchestra & choir. It's really rewarding to wander around in the crowd during intermission and hear fans discussing what their favorite moments are, what they are anticipating; it's just pure joy. And absolutely, it's been called Zelda cosplayer and 3DS StreetPass "heaven." I have seen so many incredible costumes. Fans spend hours upon hours pouring over every last detail. Their outward expression of love for this franchise is hard to beat. It creates such a celebratory atmosphere and really adds to the magic of the evening.

GZ: Tell us how you came up with the setlist.  Do you pick a bunch of favorites, or perhaps even songs that fans don't see coming? Walk us through the concert.  What can first-time attendees expect coming to one of your concerts?

JM: Chad Seiter (SotG's arranger and music director) and I grew up with The Legend of Zelda and its music; it played a huge role in the soundtrack of our childhoods. Between the two of us I'm probably the bigger Zelda geek (Chad beats me on the Star Trek front — but not by much). But all that aside, we both come from film/television/video game storytelling backgrounds, so we also grew up reliving the movies of our youth through these big budget orchestral film scores. We're both huge, huge fans of legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith (which ultimately led us to hiring Goldsmith's recording engineer Bruce Botnick for the "25th Anniversary Special Orchestra CD"). Granted, when it came to playing video games like Zelda, as children we had to suspend our disbelief and imagine what those sine, saw, square and triangle waves would sound like if only their notes were performed by live instruments. That's not new; guys like Jason Michael Paul, Thomas Böcker and Tommy Tallarico have been bringing video game music to life in the concert circuit for years now with shows like Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy, PLAY! A Video Game Symphony (JMP), Symphonic Fantasies/Legends/Odysseys (Böcker) and Video Games Live (Tallarico).

When I approached Chad about translating Zelda into a concert format, we were in absolute sync with what we wanted to do: something with the musical narrative — the soul of the game that video game-themed concerts hadn't really seen before; a true, live symphonic soundtrack married cinematically to picture in a way that would tap powerfully into the core of our own personal nostalgia for these games. It was a tall, ambitious order. We figured that as big of fans as we were, if we could first and foremost make ourselves happy, and then secondly — somehow — convince Nintendo this was a cool idea worth doing, we'd then actually have a shot at delivering to the fans the kind of experience we felt The Legend of Zelda genuinely deserved. Lucky for us, serendipity was on our side, and with the help and support of Jason Michael Paul and our friends Kim Moore and Bill Trinen at Nintendo and via them, Koji Kondo and Eiji Aonuma, this thing began to materialize. 

It didn't take long for us to arrive at the decision to further develop our idea into a legit, classically formatted program. Thus began the process of pouring over the entire franchise, examining all of the significant and recurring themes, and of course the music… sifting through every piece, no matter how great or how small, analyzing their importance to what would be our core focus and strategy for the show: story. 

After several months of developing and writing, our hard work resulted in a full-length symphony complete with an Overture (the one Nintendo surprised the world with at E3 in 2011), a set of melodic Interludes (Dungeons, Kakariko Village, Songs of the Hero — an Ocarina Medley), a Prelude — setting up the Goddesses, the Triforce and the creation of Hyrule, and 4 extensive movements chronicling the adventures of Link and Princess Zelda (Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and A Link to the Past), all theatrically organized and divided into two acts, then split by an Intermezzo we felt was refreshingly appropriate (okay, okay… it's The Great Fairy's Fountain). If by the end of the show the audience has had as much fun watching and listening as we have had performing, tradition has dictated that we'll drag the conductor back out for an encore or two. ;)

GZ: How thrilled are you to play a show during E3?  At the Greek Theater, no less?

JM: Oh, all of us are absolutely thrilled. Myself, Jason Michael Paul, Chad Seiter, our conductor Eímear Noone; our entire team. Each year, E3 gets to steal attention away from Hollywood and transform Tinseltown into the video game/pop culture mecca of the Universe. It's important stuff! As a huge gamer myself, I'm stoked to be throwing our own little Zelda-themed party just a few miles away at the Greek. Okay, maybe not little… the Greek Theater can hold upwards of 6,000 people, so we're looking forward to giving the E3 crowd something fun and celebratory to do on the evening of June 6th. Come on out and bring your friends, green tunics and all!! It's gonna be a blast.

GZ: Finally, how long are the tours set to go on?  Will a new one kick off next year?

JM: So far, we are scheduled all the way through December with plans of continuing in 2013, though not much more information is available on that quite yet. Stay tuned! :) 

Thanks to Jeron for chatting with us.  Check out more on the tour at http://zelda-symphony.com/.

 
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Robert Workman
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