When it was announced at this year’s E3 that The Legend of Zelda, one of gaming’s more beloved series, would be the subject of a concert series in honor of its 25th anniversary, the news was met with unbridled excitement. Thanks to the series’ long history (15 games to be exact, not counting the CD-i disasters), there are more than a few memorable tunes that fans have longed to hear arranged for a symphony orchestra.
The Legend of Zelda‘s main theme can be recognized by those who have never even picked up a controller, and the name “Zelda” itself is now synonymous with the franchise. It’s a high achievement for a game to rise to such pop culture status, so it’s no surprise that an event to celebrate its many milestones was eminent.
The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert finally arrived in Los Angeles last Friday, after its first show in Tokyo. Walking into the Pantages, my fellow Zeldaphiles and I were completely enamored by everything our overwhelmed senses could absorb. The Pantages gave the concert the Hyrulian royal treatment and the same respect it would give any of its high profile shows. The programs were stunning, collectable even, and the décor and general ambiance set the mood for what was already predicted to be a very special evening. Various Zelda posters from different titles littered the lobby, banners adorned the walls, game demos were available to try, and soundtracks played through the lobby. It was apparent that much thought and care went into planning the event. I’m confident the Pantages was even able to accommodate Link’s very specific and difficult contract rider. Celebrities…
Entering the main theater, we were greeted with a stage filled with every instrument imaginable, though most probably imagined an ocarina section that was unfortunately absent. The show began with Eiji Aonuma, producer of the show and Zelda development team member since Ocarina of Time, greeting the anxious crowd. After welcoming the audience and thanking them for attending he playfully warned that the musical selections would be accompanied by video, so if anyone had not played any of the Zelda games before, then they would mostly likely be exposed to some spoilers. This was answered with a sea of laughter at the notion that anyone in that theater had missed even a single title.
The orchestra took their seats and Eimear Noone, the shows conductor, took her place. Throughout the concert she played as our guide, giving insight into what we were about to experience. For someone who had probably never conducted a concert of video game music, she seemed to genuinely appreciate it. The “Hyrule Castle Theme” began playing and nostalgia washed over the crowd with the force of a typhoon, leaving us reeling with every note. This would be a common occurrence throughout the night as precious memories and, for some, their very childhoods were remembered fondly through the familiar melodies, causing a plethora of emotions. We laughed, we cried, most kept it together or tried to keep composure, but their eyes told you everything. Many simply stared at the stage, leering, unblinking and grinning slightly. They were happy faces.
While there were many highlights, a few stood out as definitive moments: “The Ocarina Melody Suite,” in which different ocarina pieces were played by each section of the orchestra, “The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley,” ” The Wind Waker Symphonic Movement,” and “The Great Fairy’s Fountain Theme.” “The Fountain Theme” started as a harmonic performance of two harps, later joined by the rest of the orchestra and a full choir. However, it was scenes and music from A Link to The Past, arguably one of the best games in the series, that garnered some of the loudest roars of excitement from the audience.
As an encore, there was a special appearance by the man himself, Koji Kondo, who played “Grandma’s Theme” from The Wind Waker on piano. This is the point when most people absolutely lost their minds. Here was the very person responsible for all of the cherished music heard that evening and here he was, having made a trip from Japan to play an intimate solo on the piano. It was a potent combination and it was hard to resist. Everyone in the room felt as if he was playing just for them and tears were shed. It was a wonderful end to the evening.
The newest game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, will be fully orchestrated and is just around the corner, releasing November 20th, 2011. The game also comes in a pretty nifty Special Edition, which comes with the 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert CD soundtrack. This should be enough to satiate fans until the tour begins sometime next year. In the meantime, why not check out our list of the top ten Legend of Zelda music themes?
The Legend of Zelda has touched many lives, and this concert is an amazing gift for fans of the series. It’s another testament to how powerful games are as an art form, and why they should be appreciated and respected as such.