This blog was written by editorial intern Zoe DiGiorgio.
It was a different crowd that filed into the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Saturday night. Instead of a sea of suits and ties, dresses and pantsuits, there were costumes, wigs, green caps, pointed ears, and T-shirts, and the average age of the audience was about 20 years younger than usual. Yes, this audience was full of fans eager to see the BSO perform the “Symphony of the Goddesses,” a four-movement work highlighting the music of The Legend of Zelda video-game series. The series, which has spawned 15 official games, a breakfast cereal, and even a fantastically cheesy cartoon series, has inspired multiple generations of gamers since its first appearance in 1986. The adventures of Link, Princess Zelda, and the evil Ganondorf have become iconic in video-game history, and the BSO masterfully brought to life the legendary sounds that have touched millions.
The “Symphony of the Goddesses” is the first video-game themed concert to feature new arrangements of game music in a complete four-movement symphony. As arranger Chad Seiter and producer/creative director Jeron Moore explained at the start of the show, original composer Koji Kondo granted the production permission to arrange his classic themes for an orchestra and approved the results. Seiter and Moore, said they wanted the concert to bring to life the magical experiences they had with the game as children. Conductor Eímear Noone, who helmed the BSO for the performance (and even sported a green jacket for the occasion), also brought an energy and enthusiasm for the music that was palpable.
After an epic overture showcasing the different themes for Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf, which form the core of the series’ music, the body of the performance was a four-movement symphony which told the stories of the games, starting with the creation of Hyrule by the goddesses Din, Nayru, and Farore. (This was shown on-screen, for anyone who needed a little brushing up on his or her Hyrule history.) The Handel Choir of Baltimore loaned their voices to help the BSO reflect the varied moods of the different movements; from solemn perils to triumphant victories, serene friendships to puzzling challenges that Link faced, the movements grew in intensity toward the climatic final battle against Ganon. For the more playful “Wind Waker” movement, Noone conducted using a replica of the conductor’s baton Link uses in the game, much to the delight of fans. In the final movement, Link, Zelda, and Ganondorf’s themes shined through, and the chorus and orchestra hailed Link’s victory loudly before returning to the soft song of the goddesses at the end of the symphony.
Though there was no arguing that this moving symphony demonstrated the beauty and artistry of the Zelda games, the most powerful component of the concert was the emotional responses elicited by the combination of the imagery on the screen and the sounds, which for many audience members harkened back to a simpler time. As the Orchestra played, the screen behind the stage showed footage of the games, showing Link’s transformation from an 8-bit blob of pixels to the young 64-bit hero from Ocarina of Time to the cell-shaded playful Link of Wind Waker and the more refined Link of the modern generation of Zelda games. The audience giggled and groaned in response to the familiar in-game moments in the early interludes. Audience members of all ages muttered to their companions about their experiences with some of the more frustrating dungeon levels, and laughed loudly as Link chased the comical yet deadly cuccos (chickens) around. A younger fan in the crowd chanted “Yes! Yes! Yes!” as various versions of Link dodged fireballs, tossed pots, fought several dragons, and received a blinking, wish-granting, Triforce in one on-screen montage. The audience grew quiet as the symphony wore on, though: awestruck and rapt, and then ample with their praise when the lights came up after each movement.
After several standing ovations, Noone signaled for the audience to remain seated so she could finish the three encores (including a powerful orchestration of the Gerudo Valley theme, a personal favorite). Joel Guttman, a student at the University of Maryland, College Park and president of the university's Gamer Symphony Orchestra, praised Noone as a conductor and noted, “The performance did a wonderful job of encapsulating the essence of the franchise a whole.” The performance also succeeded in capturing the emotional connections the audiences had with the franchise; Justin Zelinsky, a lifelong fan of the series, said “It brought tears to my eyes and brought up wonderful memories of when I played the games as a child. The arranger did every piece justice and Koji Kondo would be proud to hear how well the BSO performed his famous pieces.” Through the power of nostalgia, the BSO brought the beautiful music of a beloved game series to life, and introduced Baltimore-area Zelda fans to one of the city’s premier cultural institutions.