Square Enix, and SquareSoft before them, have always been known for their beautiful and emotive soundtracks, from the heart-wrenching To Zanarkand to the passionate One-Winged Angel. The music from their games, as a whole, have topped the Classic FM Hall of Fame charts for many years, with Final Fantasy coming in at ninth in the latest poll. The majority of this fame can be placed on the legendary composer Nobou Uemastu, who has created music that is adored by millions. Interest in these scores are not looking to waver either, with concerts of Final Fantasy music such as Distant Worlds or Symphonic Fantasies selling out across the world with a crowd that most pop stars would be envious of.
These concerts don’t just create and sell themselves, though, and I was lucky enough to get a chance to question Thomas Böcker, producer and promoter of symphonic video game music concerts and recordings. Symphonic Fantasies London will make its UK debut on 6 October 2016 and features music from Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger performed by the world famous London Symphony Orchestra. Not only this, but for fans of Kingdom Hearts, there will be a pre-concert talk with the renowned composer of the series, Yoko Shimomura.
This is such a wonderful experience for gamers and non-gamers alike, giving them a chance to experience some of the best pieces of music from the video gaming world, which have gone on to be universally loved. It couldn’t have been easy getting concerts such as Symphonic Fantasies off the ground, which is exactly why my first question to Thomas Böcker was to find out what he attributed his success to. “I would say a mixture of passion and luck” he begins. “All our team members love what they are doing, as clichéd as it might sound. We’re always striving to produce exciting concerts that set new standards, and are constantly pushing ourselves to work harder and to learn more from the experience.”
All our team members love what they are doing, as clichéd as it might sound. We’re always striving to produce exciting concerts that set new standards, and are constantly pushing ourselves to work harder and to learn more from the experience.
It’s not just hard work that gets you to the top though, and in a world where some consider video game music below par, there’s a lot of luck involved too. Fortunately for Thomas Böcker, as he goes on to say, “there are some wonderful people within orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra or the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra who believe in what we are doing and are willing to support us”.
This was exactly what I personally wanted to hear, it’s always difficult when you tell someone that you prefer Dearly Beloved over Moonlight Sonata, as it cemented confidence in what Böcker has created. Of course, there are a lot of people who don’t believe video game music should be placed on par with ‘real’ classics, even when performed by a world-famous orchestra. I was interested to see what Thomas Böcker thought of this, and how the stigma that is attached to video game music can be tackled and it was good to see how positively he handled the subject. “I think such prejudgment comes from a lack of knowledge, the unwillingness to give it a try. There is no question that some video game music has been created with more care – and some with less, but with arrangements such as we did for Symphonic Fantasies, Final Symphony and Final Symphony II, it is clear that there can be high quality to it.”
Video game music doesn’t just have a lot of love and attention attached to it; there’s also benefits to the world of classical music world. Böcker went on to mention that “Nobuo Uematsu has been called the ‘John Williams of video game music’, and that’s not down to similarity of styles, but because, like John Williams, Nobuo Uematsu has helped make young people interested in orchestral music again.” Personally, I think this is incredibly important and Böcker obviously agrees. Classical and orchestral music is something that a lot of people associate with the older generation, but there’s no need for that to be the case, especially when one of the most popular video game series of all time features it in every iteration.
On a more personal note, I wanted to see if Thomas loved video games themselves, as much as their music and it was great to hear that he’s just as big a fan as we are here at Exeposé Games. “I have been always very interested in video games indeed, getting a Commodore 64 at the age of seven or eight”, Thomas said.
He goes on to explain that this is where his passion for video game music spurred from and that, since then, it has obviously been a huge part of his life. When it comes to video game concerts, Böcker had read about similar performances in Japan and felt something similar should happen in Europe, but unfortunately at the time it never did. But every cloud has a silver lining though, as Thomas goes on to say that “when nothing happened, I decided I had to produce one by myself, which I did back in 2003, and that has started the whole movement we see today.”
Creating such wonderful concerts has obviously given Thomas a plethora of different experiences and my final question was related to this. I wanted to know what his most memorable was. “Final Symphony II, on the Japan tour. For the first time, a foreign orchestra performed video game music in Japan – the London Symphony Orchestra. I was standing backstage with Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, and he decided to sneak into the concert hall, to watch the audience reacting to the last two pieces of the concert. I followed, and when the last note was played and the Japanese fans gave standing ovations, which rarely happens there, he came to me, hugging me, expressing his gratitude. It was definitely the most memorable experience in my career, and it will be hard to top.” Contrary to the name, Final Symphonies won’t be the last we hear from Böcker, and for that, we’re pleased.
Follow this link, if you would like to go and see Symphonic Fantasies in London this year!