“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” I felt a little like John Cleese’s characterization of the Pope as I took my seat in the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre’s Riverside Theatre. I’ve adored the Zelda series for almost twenty years, and, as my first game was Ocarina of Time, much of those two decades have seen me humming ocarina tunes as I go about my business. But of orchestras, choirs, the fine art of creating sounds that weave themselves into symphonies? Of this, I know very little; so I hope that my layperson’s attempt to digest this performance causes no offense. As such, I will make no attempt to comment on the technical aptitude of the performance beyond that it was very, very good.
The Riverside Theatre thrummed with excited anticipation as fans took their seats in the auditorium, the screen above the stage playing selections of game footage. Everywhere were excited faces, conversations lit with anticipatory excitement. I managed to snap a few photos of a few of the fans I spied in cosplay from my vantage point, while the overwhelming majority of concert-goers were bedecked in Zelda-themed or inspired outfits. The buzz of the crowd shifted as the first musicians took to the stage, the lights went down, and the show began.
The Perth Symphony Orchestra, lead by Chief Conductor Jessica Gethin, wasted no time in taking my breath away. I am the first to admit that I have inherited a propensity to get misty-eyed at times of high emotion, but as the orchestra stirred into life — what a moment! I had chills as I was transported as though by magic to the Hyrule of my childhood, swept away by that first wave of symphony. I am deliberately waxing lyrical here, but it is really something, to have music so beloved performed with such artistry and to the fullest realisation of the songs once limited to synthetic (if lovely) instruments.
In those opening moments, I knew we were in for something special. Of course, I was overjoyed to attend — how often I had read about the Symphony of the Goddesses being performed in other cities and longed for them to visit Perth? But until those first notes bloomed through the theater, I had failed to appreciate the magnitude of impact this performance could deliver.
Of course I was overjoyed to attend. But until those first notes bloomed through the theater, I had failed to appreciate the magnitude of impact this performance could deliver.
The pieces within the movement flow into one another, although any long time Zelda fan (and perhaps any musician) would easily identify the themes and moments of games within the series. As you may know, in this season of the Symphony of the Goddesses, pieces from Breath of the Wild have been added to the mix. I must admit that, though beautiful, these pieces were the least impressive portions of the concert to me. I suspect that has everything to do with nostalgia; every other game to make an appearance I have played and replayed ad infinitum. Perhaps it’s also that the Breath of the Wild tracks were simpler, slightly less rich than their cousins, but this is only because of the exceptional depth to the rest of the music.
The Legend of Zelda has always enjoyed a strong relationship with music, and the audience are treated to short video cameos from Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma and Koji Kondo which expand on that fact. These messages, interspersed throughout the show, are a delight, despite not revealing much that a Zelda enthusiast would not already know. They are personal, charming, and express with great clarity the pride that these creators have in the work that we all so adore.
The first performance of the “Hyrule Field” track opens as it does in-game at the first light of dawn; with the “Sun’s Song.” Played by a single flautist (or perhaps a different instrument), it was this iconic refrain that had much of the audience gasping with (quiet) delight. Ocarina of Time features heavily in the music of the night, as it logically must, being so closely linked to music.
The second largest reaction from the crowd was a fond “aww” for the “Bombers’ Theme,” which followed a medley including the “Song of Time,” “Skull Kid,” and “Woodfall Temple.” The Bomber’s ditty flowed into Clock Town’s theme, and the gathering of shadow and drama as the song progresses through the three days of the game is all the more hair-raising with the power of the orchestra and choir. It struck me that Majora’s Mask’s songs, which I remember being underwhelmed by in comparison to Ocarina of Time’s back in the days huddled by my N64, are deeply resonant. Perhaps it’s replaying those 72 hours of game time over and over until Termina is delivered that have burned them permanently into my brain.
But my personal favourite rendition into live music came from the next game in our world’s timeline The Wind Waker. This is a game that speaks to my very soul; sailing and endless sea on your trusty boat, which is also your companion. The music is breathtaking, and to me captures the romance and adventure of the ocean. Backed by the full orchestra and choir, the songs of Wind Waker come to vivid life, particularly notably the many string arrangements. You can almost taste brine on the air, the strings a call to adventure that compels you, if not to take up an oar and set off to sea, then at least to dust off your Wii U or Gamecube and return to that cel-shaded utopia.
Throughout every piece, it was a wonder to watch the relationship between individual musicians and their instrument. I was near enough to see the graceful fingers of harpists gliding over the strings of their graceful, golden instruments. To watch concentration and exertion wrinkle the brow of the man who commanded the great brass tuba at the right of the stage. Or the energetic, flighty movements of a violinist who could not seem to contain her exuberance. Of course, watching Jessica Gethin guide the musicians through the performance with flair and feeling was as interesting as entertaining. Of course, I would have loved to see an ocarina — even if one were only to make a token appearance.
Providing a backdrop to these talented individuals is a great screen which displays game footage as an accompaniment to the pieces. These are lovely, artfully selected to tell the stories that accompany the auditory tapestry. At times I did feel that perhaps more varied footage could have been used, particularly for their Breath of the Wild pieces, but all in all they are well tied to the music. It was interesting to note that the game footage used wasn’t perfect, our hero occasionally stumbling or being hit by his foe. There are whole game sequences reconstructed here — certainly major spoilers for many of the series’ central titles.
These deep human voices have every bit of the gravitas required to transport you into a world where music has the power to bend space and time.
Following a brief intermission (perhaps not long enough if you meant to make a purchase or merchandise or refreshments, all told), the male choir opens with the “Song of Time,” as played by Link on the ocarina. These deep human voices have every bit of the gravitas required to transport you into a world where music has the power to bend space and time. As the song moves beyond the portion piped on Ocarina and the tune builds in complexity, the female choir lend their voices to the mix, until the whole orchestra blooms into life as the melody reaches its zenith.
Every game’s soundtrack does well in the translation to the stage, but I was perhaps most surprised by Skyward Sword. Not my personal favourite Zelda game, the orchestral performance brought me a new appreciation for the world painted by the game. Its score swoops and soars along with the loftwings, eminently well paired to the theme of flight.
A Link to the Past, another seminal contribution to the Zelda franchise, featured after Twilight Princess (too beautiful to take notes during) to sounds of delight from the audience. Despite how far removed the sounds of a full orchestra are to the extremely limited musical expressions of the SNES, the refrains are iconic and immediately recognisable, particularly the dark and brooding theme of Agahnim.
And then the show begins to wrap, with a final address from Shigeru Miyamoto. Though recorded, these are a delightful inclusion to the experience. It is clear as day the affection and pride that the creators hold for this series that we all love so much, and there was no small measure of joy as Mr Miyamoto declared that “Like in (our) games, the show will contain a final surprise!”
I will not spoil it for you, but instead offer a hint; the closing piece of the concert, though pocket-sized, grants the wish of many fans, and has long been requested to be added to the movement.
If you are fan enough of Zelda to have soldiered through to the end with me in this article, I think you would be well served by the purchase of a ticket next time this auditory delight is near you. Especially if you can attend with a friend; as we all know, it’s dangerous to go alone.