On September 20, 2017, Game Music Collective (a professional orchestra with over 20 members) had their debut concert in the concert hall (Finlandia hall) of the Finlandia Hall. Through a stroke of luck (meaning, the tickets were nearly all sold when I first heard of the event rather late), I was there in the audience. First off, I paid for my ticket myself. I also wasn't there as a member of the press, so please excuse my lacking knowledge of the exact parts included in the medleys played there.
Game Music Collective says on their webpage that:
Established in Finland in 2016 the Game Music Collective is Europe’s first professional orchestra focusing on game music.
In addition to performing in live concerts, the Game Music Collective can be hired as a studio orchestra for game productions, and produces game music videos.
So what did they play and how did they fare? With the orchestra backed by Rovio -- the Angry Birds studio -- and the national (monopolistic) betting agency Veikkaus, the Angry Birds theme was to be expected. The full setlist is here and also copied to the end of this cblog.
The concert started off with Final Fantasy VII's opening and bombing mission. This bode well. This is music well-suited for orchestras and also a complete piece by itself. First time I ever heard that song as far as I know, too.
The medley of Monkey Island music sounded good to my ear, but my friends say there were a missed note or two. This was then followed up by an Undertale medley and then Apotheosis from Journey. Yes, Spiderdance was there.
And just like that, arguably two thirds of the PC music content present had been covered. Overall, the focus was very heavily on Square's titles from SNES and Playstation. Nobuo Uematsu was the only composer who appeared in multiple pieces, which certainly is justifiable.
But there were no Nintendo tunes (Xenoblade Chronicles could've stylistically fit in), Sega tunes or anything from the arcades either. I can imagine Konami being Konami and Nintendo being Nintendo would pose a hurdle for their music to be performed, but in the end, this also helped in giving the concert more focus. The focus was obviously on more ‘mature’ (ugh) music pieces than the catchy melodies of 8-bit computers and consoles.
Overall, the Square pieces were handled very well. It also helped that nowhere near all of those pieces were medleys.
But there were two disappointments. The first was a medley of Megaman music from 2, 3, 4 and 5. Sure, it started off promisingly with a grand piano playing either 2 or 3's opening; we're split on which opening music was played, my bet is on 3. The uncertainty isn’t because the piece was made unrecognizable but because we didn’t remember the original themes. But then the medley devolved into something I can’t describe before pulling itself out of it by Wily's castle theme from Megaman 2. I can’t tell if it was the arrangement or the mixing or something else, but this was a letdown. Coincidentally, this was also the only music from 8-bit games.
Remember how I told you the national betting company was a sponsor here? Their old lotto theme music together with their poker machine doubling music followed after a Chrono Trigger medley, and having that work better than a Megaman medley ought to be a sign of impending apocalypse. The Angry Birds medley that followed (yes, the other sponsor) sure enough started with the familiar ditty, but evolved into something else (my bet is music from those Angry Birds games I have never seen, heard or played).
The last three (plus one) pieces were performed with the help of the male voice choir Euga, with about twenty singers. Main theme from Halo, Dragonborn from Skyrim and Destati from Kingdom Hearts. Both the first and the last were impressive, and the choir performed consistently well. Dragonborn, however, was a disappointment for obvious reasons: the orchestra is a small one. The instruments lacked the oomph I expect from a good epic orchestral rendition of Dragonborn. Not for the lack of volume or skill but the lack in the number of instruments playing. You may be aware of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s concert "Score" where they also performed Dragonborn Comes. That orchestra has over 100 members.
The final piece, not included in the programme, brought the concert to a circle: One-Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII. This was again a good showing. And as the conductor said, it brought the concert to a whole circle. But more importantly for me, it showed that the programme could be said to have had an arc. It wasn't a mishmash of music from all styles; I can’t imagine trying to cover all video game music in one concert not resulting in a failure unless the concert necessitated breaks for lunch, tea and dinner.
Behind the orchestra, a screen showed a mostly abstract looping animated visualization. The only texts I saw there were the names of the pieces and the Undertale fight menu. Video game music still complements the gameplay -- what is happening on the screen, what the player can do and so on. And this was lost on those who hadn't played those games. Yes, I'm arguing for inclusiveness for those who hadn't played the games beforehand. This is how to lose a key part of the experience tied to the music, but then again, I also expect I'm in the minority for not having played half of the games the music was from.
In total, that was two hours of music, not counting an intermission for 30 minutes.
If GMC has concerts like this in the future, as the conductor said they would, they have room for improvement. Most importantly there’s the point of balancing between what is popular and what is actually feasible for their group. It's all too easy to say they should've dropped Skyrim’s theme for Morrowind's, like I think. While the orchestra's size and composition might've fit the piece better, the audience probably would've expected Dragonborn instead -- and known it better, too. The set list of the concert was, after all, influenced by an online poll.
Would I go in another GMC concert? Sure, the price wasn't that high (37€) and despite what I call two misses, the other pieces were performed very well.
For what it's worth, the Finnish Broadcasting Company (a public entity) was there to record the concert and chances are it'll be broadcast on radio and/or their audio/video-on-demand service. That service, though, is usually (if not always) limited to only Finland as far as I know.
Extra: Final Fantasy VII - One Winged Angel