Saturday Night: The Houston Symphony Does Final Fantasy At Jones Hall

The Houston Symphony Jones Hall July 24, 2010

While everyone else in Houston was going gaga for Gaga, Aftermath headed down to Jones Hall to hear the Houston Symphony play Nobuo Uematsu's fantastic scores from the Final Fantasy series of video games.

The hall was absolutely packed with fans ranging from small children to senior fans of classical music. In the lobby, a charity group called Extra Life was signing people up for a 24-hour video-game tournament in which participants would collect sponsors for hours played and the proceeds would go to Texas Children's Hospital.

The name of this tournament? Video Game Armageddon. Yes, the tournament from Nintendo's version of Tommy, The Wizard starring the Super Savage Bros. Good-hearted geeking was in no shortage, as the lobby also sported several uber-fans dressed in elaborate costumes from the games, many of whom were kind enough to pose for pictures with other patrons and your humble reporter.

Inside the sold-out hall, the mood was electric as conductor Arnie Roth took the stage, and it exploded when Nobuo-san was introduced. Smiling and full of energy, the 51-year-old composer who has scored almost every classic and modern Square Enix game met his audience with warmth and affection.

The lights dimmed, and the harp notes that signal possibly the most famous prelude in video game history began. Instantly, Aftermath was transported back to childhood, immersed in the lore of airships, dragons, rat tails, chocobos, and all the hallmarks of a roleplaying game series that rivals Lord of the Rings in scope, characters, and magic. It would be a lie to say our eyes didn't water just a bit.

The set of the night was a wonderful mix of classic and modern works, ranging from the original "Swing de Chocobo" that has featured in some form in most of the games, up to new music for the thirteenth and fourteenth installments. The audience erupted into an utter frenzy when a trio of vocal soloists joined the symphony to perform a rendition of the entire opera scene from Final Fantasy VI in all its incredibly cheesy glory.

Still, there was a lot of noticeable disappointment in the air when the program showed that there would be no performance of "One Wing Angel" from the seventh game. Hope was restored as Roth returned from a curtain call and announced an encore. But instead of the breakout mainstream hit of the series, the audience was treated to a stirring rendition of "Terra's Theme." It wasn't what was asked for, but no one complained.

It's doubtful that any in the audience could forget the first time they plugged what was then called Final Fantasy III into their Super Nintendo and watched, entranced, as giant mecha crawled across a snowy landscape with the green-haired heroine's motif playing softly in the background.

More applause, and Roth returned from the wings, bringing Nobuo-san with him. Everyone expected the question and answer session to begin, but Nobuo-san himself called upon the symphony to deliver one more tune. Roth agreed, only on the condition that Nobuo-san join the Houston Symphony Chorus and sing with them.

Nobuo-san made his way to the back while Roth explained that lyrics to the song had been added to the screen behind him in phonetic English should we wish to sing along, but that only one word was really required: Sephiroth. With a flourish, "One Winged Angel" began, and there wasn't a soul in Jones Hall without the thrill of battle in their heart as one of the series' most popular villains strode black-clad and silver-haired across the screen, through flames and wielding his twelve-foot sword with menace in his eyes.

Video game music is still in the process of rising to the level of other classical scores, and Nobuo Uematsu continues to lead the charge. It can't be long before he knocks John Williams and Danny Elfman off their pedestals and assumes his rightful place.

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