Like a broken record, I’ve too often spoken about Perth and how it isn’t the greatest location for certain opportunities. However, over the years, this predicament has improved with social media allowing fans of all sorts to become better known to international artists. For fans of pop culture, this meant the rise of conventions such as Supanova and Oz Comic Con. Following which, gaming-specific exhibitions such as PAX have firmly established themselves in Australia.
While Perth is yet to experience the same attention as the eastern states, more than ever, we’re now starting to be included. The fact that “A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy” played at our very own Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia this past weekend is a testament to that—with a full house in attendance, no less!
Leading up to the performance, I was fortunate enough to speak with Producer, Music Director, and Conductor, Arnie Roth, who also is the mastermind behind the Distant Worlds tour. Together, we talked at good length about this newest series of Final Fantasy concerts, his influences and experience, and what fans should expect. Arnie was very insightful during our chat, so if you missed it, I highly recommend you check out our interview here. However, having now experienced it for myself, I thought it’d be a great opportunity to write about it for the fans who couldn’t make it.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to Winthrop Hall, so it was quite a surreal experience for me walking through its doors. You see, I frequented it during my early youth, back when I sung in various choirs prior to high school. While Perth isn’t particularly renowned for its venues, there is certainly something grandiose about Winthrop Hall’s massive pipe organ, high ceiling, and stained glass windows that is so perfectly suited to an event such as this. It wasn’t like going to see one of your favourite lesser-known international bands that had been squished into some dank nightclub.
Having interviewed Arnie prior, I was fortunate enough to receive some complimentary tickets, which also happened to seat me and my wife next to the Executive Director of the Perth Symphony Orchestra. Before the show, she leaned over to ask me if I was a fan of the games, and whether I was aware it was just going to be music. I guess it would have been a surprise to see such a large turn out of young faces to an event such as this! Naturally, I explained my history with the series, and why I felt the music from this particular franchise stood out to facilitate a live performance.
After chatting for awhile, I was quite surprised to learn that it’s usually only Arnie and the incredibly talented German-pianist, Benyamin Nusswho, who travel during the A New World tours. This meant that the performance I witnessed was actually played by select members from our own Perth Symphony Orchestra. Depending on where you are, you’ll have a somewhat unique experience because of the local talent that’s also involved. Talk about nerves too, because the players only have one live rehearsal together and are warned in advance that fans will quickly notice any off-notes!
I think what sets these particular concerts apart is how engaging the conductor is. Arnie was so good with the crowd, opening with a “Red Wings” from FFIV, and first taking the time to honour the many composers who have worked on the franchise— including the famous Nobuo Uematsu, who, unfortunately, was not in attendance. It’s important to note that A New World is performed by a chamber ensemble, as opposed to the full orchestra seen in Distant Worlds. This doesn’t mean we’re getting any less, however, as it also provides an opportunity for a totally different repertoire.
Arnie explained that with so many tracks available, it was a great opportunity to change up the repertoire slightly with each performance, and also that A New World allowed them the freedom to play songs never included in Distant Worlds. I’ve listened to a lot of Final Fantasy music in my time, so while I was perhaps a bit disappointed some of my favourites were absent, I did appreciate having my expectations upturned, and enjoyed hearing some of the lesser known songs performed. Although, two classics were promised as an exception, including the iconic “To Zanarkand.”
To commemorate the evening, the ensemble opened with a short victory fanfare, to which the audience laughed and applauded. Following which, Arnie and Benyamin (on violin and piano respectively) joined together in a breathtaking duet of “The Promise/Blinded By Light” from FFXIII. What I really liked was that between every 2-3 songs, Arnie would stop to address the audience, engage the fans of each game, and provide a background on the tracks. It was clear he took great pride, and I appreciated that he always got those involved with each song to stand for applause afterwards.
I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with how well our local musicians handled the pressure. I listened to a few earlier performances online, and while my opinion is perhaps a bit biased, I certainly believed we were one of the better ensembles to step up to the task. Some performances that stood out for me personally were “Fragments of Memories” – FFVIII, which Arnie explained he and Nobou transcribed by ear for this performance as the sheet music had been lost. Another was the crowd-pleasing “Chocobo Medley,” complete with a xylophone, ukulele and a whistle!
Some of the best performances of the night, however, were easily the Cello/Guitar Duet for “Troian Beauty” – FFIV, Benyamin’s piano solo for “Those who Fight” – FFVII, and a string quartet playing of the “Fight With Seymour” – FFX.
Although, nothing could possibly have topped the conclusion—”One Winged Angel” from FFVII—which Arnie used as an opportunity to include the audience by having us all sing “SEPH-I-ROTH” at the right moments to make up for the lack of a chorus. There is nothing quite like cheering for your favourite villain alongside a large crowd, but that wasn’t enough for some fans. Two dedicated individuals decided to take it a step further by belting out the complete Latin chorus, which sounded surprisingly decent, and seemed to be well received by most of the audience—all in good fun!
I don’t think there is anything quite like a video game music concert. With nearly 30 years of history driving the Final Fantasy franchise, it goes without saying that countless gamers have been influenced by it (and its music) at one point or another, and it was simply a joy to celebrate that history with other fans. I’ve been to many shows and concerts in my time, but I can’t say I’ve seen many with standing ovations as passionate as this one. So, to close out, I just want to thank Arnie and the Perth Symphony Orchestra for making it happen. You never know, perhaps the success of this event may lead to the larger Distant Worlds tour making its way across to us with the right support. Although, next time, please consider an encore. We kind of felt a bit lame chanting for one, only to realise the show was actually over!