It’d be an understatement to say Final Fantasy is a big deal in the gaming industry. For several decades, it has served as the flagship franchise for Japanese role-playing games throughout the world with its incredible stories, cutting-edge graphics, innovative gameplay systems, and, of course, timeless soundtracks. While the most recent XIII trilogy may have received mixed reviews, the one thing that has always been consistent is the music. As a lifelong fan myself, I can personally say that many of the tracks themselves have resonated with me as much as the games. From the iconic Final Fantasy Prelude through to favourites such as Aerith’s Theme and To Zanarkand, every single one of these compositions means something different to each of us, and just the idea of being able to hear them live is tantalising!
Final Fantasy concerts aren’t a new phenomenon; they’ve been happening for at least a decade now, with the most renowned being the Distant Words tour that has been on-going since 2007. While Sydney and Adelaide had been lucky enough to receive the full orchestra experience, it didn’t look like Perth would ever be on the agenda; or, at least, that was until the announce of the A New World tour – a more intimate performance of Final Fantasy music. Naturally, I was beyond excited when I heard the news; even though my personal hero, Nobuo Uematsu, would not be attending. However, it’s critical to note A New World is still being directed by his talented Distant Worlds counterpart – Producer, Music Director, and Conductor, Arnie Roth – who I recently interviewed in the lead up to their performance in February!
Could you tell us about yourself and your involvement in A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY?
I first performed the music of FINAL FANTASY in 2005 – we produced the first public concert of the music of FINAL FANTASY in North America with a series of concerts titled ‘Dear Friends: music from FINAL FANTASY. It at that time that I first met and worked with the series’ main composer, Nobuo Uematsu. Since then, he and I have collaborated on many projects together, including the ‘More Friends: more music from FINAL FANTASY’ concert, the Tokyo concert produced by SQEX titled ‘Voices: music from FINAL FANTASY’, the launch of our global concert tour ‘Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY’ in 2007 which has been constantly touring around the world since that point, and the launch of A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY, launched in FEB 2014 in London. We have a very deep and rich history of collaborating with SQEX and Nobuo Uematsu on important projects centered around the FF series.
What are your musical roots – i.e. how did you begin playing, what was your inspiration, and what have you worked on in the past?
That is actually a lot of different questions, but to try and answer that simply: I began studying the violin at age 8, and that became my focus going into Northwestern University where I received Bachelor and Master of Music degrees. Gradually over the years, I began doing a lot more writing, composition and arranging, and conducting, and my focus certainly shifted into the role of producer, conductor and composer/arranger. If you check my resume, I think you will easily see my background in terms of film, TV, concert, producing, composing and arranging credits, etc.
Having been involved in in the music industry for so many years, how did you come to be involved with video game music?
In 2004, as music director and conductor of the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra, after researching the concerts of video game music that took place in Japan since 1999, I decided to move forward and program Dear Friends: music from FINAL FANTASY, the first completely public concert of video game music of its kind in North America. That was the star and my activities in that industry blossomed from that point. Before that, years prior, I was actually involved in the initial recordings of the music tracks for the first release of the video game series HALO. I recorded the orchestra and was also involved as arranger.
A New World is a successor to the popular Distant Worlds concerts; although, more intimate. What was the inspiration behind this idea?
Because of the size and logistics of the Distant Worlds production, with over 100 musicians on stage plus video screen projection, it is much more difficult to stage this concert. We wanted to have a second concert production that would be more flexible, able to be presented in more intimate venues and able to be brought into different markets and venues than Distant Worlds. ANW is able to go into universities, conventions, smaller markets; and we are able to present different repertoire than the scores we perform in Distant Worlds. It is a much more intimate experience for the audience, with 11 musicians on stage, and can be quite a personal and transformative experience for FINAL FANTASY fans, as well as chamber music fans. We feature different combinations of instruments within the 11 piece ensemble, including string quartets, solo piano, duos, as well as full ensemble pieces.
I understand the new arrangements for A New World were composed by yourself and your son, Eric Roth. Could you tell about us that process?
The primary concept for ANW is to present these FF themes from throughout the 28 year series as close to the way that fans heard them in the original games. This means that the concerts are showcasing the original material more than in other productions where it is more of an arranger’s fantasy on themes from a particular video game. Eric has a PhD in music composition, and In the case of the launch of ANW, we created initial versions of the chamber music scores, and then had an extensive review and revision process with Nobuo Uematsu and SQEX. This process is similar for new scores for Distant Worlds.
As a conductor, composer, and record producer, could you tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them?
Convincing the world outside of Japan that the many serious and important scores from video games deserve to be on stages in concert halls throughout the world. We definitely have overcome that initial reticence.
After more than a decade of Final Fantasy concert tours, could you tell us about your experiences travelling and playing for a global audience?
Our experiences with Distant Worlds, and my own experience with concert series such as Play! A Videogame Symphony, the WDR RadioSymphony video game concerts in Cologne, and many other memorable concerts, demonstrated to me the need for an alternative concert experience, and intimate chamber music concert series. And the FF fans are the most remarkable fans anywhere in the world. The concerts we have done in Australia have been fantastic, at the Sydney Opera House and elsewhere, and we are really happy to bring this new ANW concert series to Perth, Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Sydney this year.
Of all the songs that you’ll be performing on the night, is there one particular composition that you feel stands out from the others?
That is always the most difficult question. Too many choices and favorites.
What has it been like being able to both work and play alongside famed Final Fantasy composers such as Nobuo Uematsu?
It has been a great honor, and a humbling experience. I remember being shocked that Nobuo Uematsu knew so much more about me and my specific background before I met him. And it turned out that we share the same musical tastes, for the most part. Consequently, he and I always quickly agree on new score ideas and programming.
What is your favourite Final Fantasy game, and, if different, what is your favourite Final Fantasy soundtrack?
That’s another question that is too difficult to answer, sorry. There are so many choices. The music of FF is practically infinite – with so many versions and each jammed with 100’s of hours of music. I particularly love the music of VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, but also like many tracks from I, II, II, and IV, and XI, XII, XIII and XIV, and have worked on a lot of XIV tracks recently as well.
For the premiere performance in Australia, the producers of Distant Worlds: music from FINAL FANTASY present A New World: intimate music from FINAL FANTASY, an incredible new concert experience, at “the jewel in the crown of The University of Western Australia,” historic Winthrop Hall. The performance features the unforgettable music of Nobuo Uematsu from throughout the FINAL FANTASY video game series as breathtaking live concert arrangements for a top-notch eleven-piece ensemble of musicians. With acclaimed GRAMMY award-winning music director and violin soloist Arnie Roth, renowned piano soloist Benyamin Nuss and members of the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and developed in close collaboration with legendary FINAL FANTASY composer Nobuo Uematsu, A New World joins Distant Worlds as an officially licensed production with the full support of the renowned game developer SQUARE ENIX. It introduces audiences to the rich music from FINAL FANTASY on a personal and intimate scale as yet to be experienced in the land Down Under!
Venue: Winthrop Hall at the University of Western Australia
Date/Time: Friday, 12 February, 2016 8:00 PM
FINAL FANTASY VI: Decisive Battle, FINAL FANTASY VII: One Winged Angel, FINAL FANTASY VIII: Fragments of Memories, FINAL FANTASY X: Fight With Seymour, FINAL FANTASY XI: Selbina, FINAL FANTASY VII: Those Who Fight, FINAL FANTASY VIII: Force Your Way, FINAL FANTASY IX: Danger In The Forest, FINAL FANTASY X: Zanarkand, FINAL FANTASY XIII: The Promise/Blinded By Light featuring soloists Arnie Roth and Benyamin Nuss, FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Moogle Theme Medley, and FINAL FANTASY SERIES: Chocobo Medley