Distant Worlds experienced close at home by a fan

By Carl Skarbek

Last Saturday brought a unique and enthusiastic crowd to the Orpheum theater in downtown Minneapolis for a show that brought two seemingly different things under one roof: orchestral music and video games. “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” featured the Distant Worlds Philharmonic and the Macalester College Concert Choir, both under the direction of Arnie Roth. To make the evening even more spectacular, the composer, a highly revered man in the gaming world, Nobou Uematsu, was there in the flesh, making a rare appearance in the States. He sat and admired the performance of his work from a seat one row back and 10 to the left of my own. As a long time player of the Final Fantasy series and avid fan of Mr. Uematsu, this was truly a one time only treat.

The evening was light hearted, and I imagine quite nostalgic for those in attendance. In addition to all of the musicians on stage, there was a giant screen onto which scenes from the Final Fantasy games were projected. The video went along with the songs and provided humor and heartfelt sentiment to the music that was being played. Despite a couple glitches in the video, it made the experience more memorable, as the audience could directly relate to what was happening on the screen – especially if you had played these games before. Roth also made it a fun environment by providing small anecdotes about the music between pieces.

The music itself was phenomenal. Hearing it whilst battling monsters or flying an airship is one thing, but hearing it in an amazing space like the Orpheum Theatre performed by professional musicians elevates the music to a whole new level. I appreciated the music when I played the games, as it provided great background music to thought provoking storylines, but I feel that it can only be truly appreciated when you see the hundred or so musicians on stage playing it beautifully. Uematsu is a modern musical genius and the performers on stage did his work justice.

Soloists from the Twin Cities were also featured prominently in the performance, the most memorable being the performance of the “Opera Maria and Draco” from Final Fantasy VI, which inspired laughs and a standing ovation from the crowd.

Some of the other musical highlights of the night included works that had never been played in the U.S before like “Ronfaure” from Final Fantasy XI, and “Swing de Chocobo,” a big band swing version of the popular “Chocobo Theme” that appears throughout the Final Fantasy Series.

“Distant Worlds” will travel the U.S. and Japan, and in each city they use a new choral section. Dr. Eugene Rogers, director of the Macalester College Concert Choir, was asked if his group would participate in this production after the fall choir concert. It was a great opportunity for the Concert Choir to get onto a big stage, and they represented Rogers and the college with much aplomb.

There was also an opportunity after the show to meet and greet the masterminds of the show, Arnie Roth and Nobou Uematsu. They signed autographs and chatted with dedicated fans like myself. Getting to meet such an icon was a special treat for all in attendance.

At the end of the concert, Roth and Uematsu took the stage and conducted a poll of the audience for what songs should be added to future concerts. Using the classic “Applause-o-Meter” method of gauging support for different “Battle Songs,” “J-E-N-O-V-A” from Final Fantasy VII and “Dancing Mad” from Final Fantasy VI were the clear favorites.

If you missed this performance, it’s too bad, because it might be a few years before a show like this comes back to Minneapolis. You can, however, pick up a copy of the CD, which is available on the Distant Worlds website (www.ffdistantworlds.com).