Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Uematsu's music takes Benedum Center to Distant Worlds

The Distant Worlds Philharmonic tune their strings and set their keys in preparation of Saturday's Distant Worlds concert at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center.
On Saturday evening, Pittsburgh got a rare taste of choice pieces from Nobuo Uematsu's beloved Final Fantasy compositions - The Benedum Center along Liberty Avenue played host to Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy. 

The Distant Worlds Philharmonic Orchestra brought in dozens of local musicians and Grammy award-winning conductor Arnie Roth, who's traveled with the show since its inception in 2007, lovingly led the packed hall through a gamut of the most memorable FF tracks.

The chandelier looming below the rotunda
at Pittsburgh's Benedum Center
Game engineer Steven Ramirez, of Pittsburgh-based Schell Games, said the impact of the in-game experience - the plots, the dynamic and distinct characters, the artistic set pieces and the music - leaves its mark on every FF fan.

"There's a whole nostalgia factor when you hear music from games you used to play all the time," said Ramirez. He said hearing it again elicits an emotional recall of pivotal game moments - almost like reliving them again.

Guest vocalist Susan Calloway, who sang the love theme "Eyes On Me" on the original American release of Final Fantasy VIII, joined the Philharmonic on Saturday night, performing in front of a video collage of Squall and Rinoa scenes taken directly from FFVIII FMV. 

Guitarist Shota Nakama also took the stage for a solemn and moving rendition of FFV's "Dear Friends" - one of the main themes from the series' fifth outing - and "Vamo' alla Flamenco," which some may remember as the mini-game tune from FFIX.

A swinging Chocobo medley received cheers and laughter from the crowd, with some favored cutscenes and FMV footage of the darling little yellow birds-of-burden. FFXIII's Cid and his "'Fro-cobo" drew plenty of "dawww" from the audience. 

For OMNIpixel, the highlight of the evening was "Maria and Draco" - Final Fantasy VI's unforgettable opera scene. Three opera vocalists were contracted to bring "Maria" (played by "Celes" in the game), "Draco" and villainous Easterner "Prince Ralse" to life. 

FFVII's Aerith Gainsborough and FFVI's Terra Branford
Uematsu had used 16-bit waveforms from the SNES' audio chip to create tinny, eerie-sounding vocals in its original form - hearing actual lyrics sung by flesh-and-blood professionals instead of a digital signal processor was a fourth wall-busting delight.

A first-time Distant Worlds attendee, Michael Ziemba remarked it was like the scenario had come to life through Uematsu's composition.

"I was blown away by how well they tied [the opera house piece] together... Probably my second favorite part.

"It's the way that [Uematsu's] able to tell a story just with the music... when you combine the music with the background of the game - there's so much synergy within it," Ziemba added.

Then, there were the cosplayers, of course.

Plenty of folks traveled from as far as California to hear beloved scores from the Final Fantasy series and some patrons were international. Going in, OMNIpixel knew the urge to don the mage robes would be irresistible. 

FFVI's Shadow (Interceptor is hidden in his sash)
Throughout the night, we spotted plenty of Aeriths, Terras, Tifas, FFT White Mages, Black Mages and at least one Shadow, complete with plush Interceptor stuffed in his sash (pictured at left.) Their presence offset the stuffy suit jackets of the discerning season ticket-holders and reminded everyone of the colorful world from whence this music came.

The finale got everyone involved - dyed-green hair or no - in a crowd-sourced performance of FFVII's final battle theme, "One-Winged Angel." OMNIpixel thought it was curious that the Benedum stage be taken up entirely by the orchestrators, as One-Winged Angel is arguably the most popular score from the FF series and a staple of the Distant Worlds tour. You'd need room for the chorus if you're going to perform it, right? 

The audience thrilled - their moment had finally come in this, the most intense and orchestral of the FF musical numbers. They were decidedly less-enthused when they remembered that most of the lyrics are in Latin.

FFVIII's Quistis Trepe

The full Distant Worlds Philharmonic Benedum Center setlist, in order:
  • "Opening Bombing Mission" - Final Fantasy VII
  • "Victory Theme" - Final Fantasy Series
  • "Don't Be Afraid" - Final Fantasy VIII
  • "Final Fantasy Theme Medley 2010" - Final Fantasy I-III
  • "Eyes on Me" (w/ guest vocals by Susan Calloway) - Final Fantasy VIII
  • "Blinded By Light" - Final Fantasy XIII
  • "Dear Friends" (w/ guest guitarist Shota Nakama) - Final Fantasy V
  • "Vamo' alla Flamenco" (w/guest guitarist Shota Nakama) - Final Fantasy IX
  • "Theme of Love" - Final Fantasy IV
  • "Chocobo Medley" - Final Fantasy Series
  • "The Man with the Machine Gun" - Final Fantasy VIII
  • "Zanarkand" - Final Fantasy X
  • "Kiss Me Good-bye" (w/guest vocals by Susan Calloway) - Final Fantasy XII
  • "Ronfaure" - Final Fantasy XI
  • "Aerith's Theme" - Final Fantasy VII
  • "You're Not Alone" - Final Fantasy IX
  • "Maria and Draco" (w/ guest opera vocals by Tami Fire as Maria, Juan de Leon as Draco and Kyle Oliver as Prince Ralse) - Final Fantasy VI
  • "Terra's Theme" - Final Fantasy VI
  • "One-Winged Angel" (w/ crowd-sourced chorus) - Final Fantasy VII
Triple-date at the orchestra! (Front row, from R: Christy Felix (who made these photos happen), Ms. OMNIpixel Ashleigh Prigodich, and Schell Games writer Jared Mason (not pictured: Drew Leggett, Laura Mason and Mr. OMNIpixel, Justin Dennis))


  1. Great shots!! So glad you were there!! So glad I wasn't the only one in cosplay. I'm the Aerith in the shots, btw. :) My sister's kicking herself for not dressing as Celes. XD

    1. Hey, thanks for posing! Sorry these didn't get up sooner - fun/busy weekend in the 'Burgh. Tell all your friends, lol

    2. No problem. Sunday I chilled out from all the hype of Saturday anyway. XD Then it was back to work. I posted on facebook, so they better come look.