Vancouver Symphony Orchestra breathes life into Legend of Zelda

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If you’ve spent countless hours of your life wandering the fields, forests, and dungeons of Hyrule, fighting to keep the Triforce of Wisdom out of the clutches of the evil Ganondorf, have we got a show for you.

Or, rather, Jason Michael Paul has a show for you. The San Francisco–based concert producer is bringing The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Second Quest to Vancouver. Showcasing the music of Nintendo’s long-running series of fantasy-adventure games, the touring show features compositions by Japan’s Koji Kondo, a revered figure among gamers. Arranged and conducted by Susie Benchasil Seiter, Kondo’s works will be performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a 24-voice choir.

Paul, who has also produced concerts based on Final Fantasy and other popular franchises, admits that serious classical musicians haven’t always been thrilled at the prospect of playing video-game scores, but he says that’s changing.

“It’s been gradual,” he tells the Straight in a telephone interview. “I’ve been doing this since 2004, and some of the original commentary from musicians that were performing was, they called it ‘elevator music’, and they kind of snuffed their little snuff at it. But now we’ve performed enough shows, and obviously the music that we’ve created for these particular concerts is very well-received by musicians. They love the way that the music is written; the compositions themselves are amazingly done. We’ve really risen the bar in terms of the musicianship that’s required to perform these arrangements.”

The payoff for all that technical challenge is an invariably rapturous response. You don’t often see fully costumed audience members jumping out of their seats and cheering at performances of Johannes Brahms or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but game-music aficionados don’t hold back.

“These shows have all been very well-received, and the musicians, after the show, are amazed at how much it’s a breath of fresh air,” Paul notes. “They’re getting standing ovations, and the people are just ecstatic.”

And those are people of all ages, Paul points out. Generation Xers who remember playing the original Legend of Zelda game in the ’80s are coming out with their kids and, in many cases, their parents. The older folks might not know Princess Zelda from Zelda Fitzgerald and the younger ones may have never been to a symphonic concert before, so everyone comes away having learned something.

“It’s like an educational dynamic that you see in front of you, where the kids—or in some instances the parents of the kids—are educating the grandparents,” Paul says. “And then of course you have the grandparents and the older generation educating them on the musical side of things, like the orchestra. It’s a pretty amazing dynamic to see unfold before your eyes at these concerts.”

Paul says many of those who come out to hear their favourite game soundtracks played live and to watch the spectacular visuals on an 18-by-35-foot screen will get the message that orchestral music is not just the domain of well-heeled retirees. And some of them will be back for more, even when the VSO is playing more traditional classical repertoire.

“A lot of these kids who are coming to these shows, it’s their first concert, let alone their first symphony concert—so this is kind of their start,” Paul says. “This is their beginning of going to concerts… And that’s what we ultimately try to achieve with this type of programming.”

The VSO performs The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Second Quest at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday (October 16).

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