My birthday isn’t until the 31st, but this past weekend, my friends and I ventured to NYC for my birthday outing. On Facebook I’d spotted that the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds show was coming to our area again, and when I asked my friends if they wanted to go, they were totally down. We’d been in 2015, coincidentally also for my birthday, and the show was so good we decided to see it again.
Distant Worlds is a touring concert series that performs orchestral versions of music from the long-running Final Fantasy video game series. While the orchestra plays, little movie montages play on a screen, with the footage corresponding to whatever game or character the music applies to. I’ll be honest here and say I’ve only partially played three of the Final Fantasy games (four if you count Crisis Core!), but the music is still fantastic even if you’re unfamiliar with the subject material and your friends just happen to have invited you along (as was the case with a friend’s girlfriend who came with us). Final Fantasy already has great music, but there’s something that’s extra great about hearing it performed by a live orchestra.
You might be saying, “Hey, if you already saw the concert, wouldn’t it be the exact same program? Wouldn’t that be boring?” Fortunately not! As of 2017, Distant Worlds has been happening for ten years, and they’ve built up quite a collection of orchestrations by this point. (If I’m remembering correctly, the conductor/director Arnie Roth mentioned that there’s something like 140 pieces of music in the repertoire. Woah.) There are certain classic songs that you can expect, but they don’t announce the program in advance, and I’m sure there are slight variations from city to city. Additionally, 2017 was also the 30th anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, so they had some special, brand new arrangements to show off, including a new arrangement of The Opera from FFVI and a couple of songs from the recent FFXV.
In 2015 Distant Worlds was playing in Newark, NJ at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which is in driving distance of where we live. But this year they were at Carnegie Hall, so we decided to make a little bit of a day of it in NYC. There were two performances, in the afternoon, and in the evening, so in the interest of being able to take our time, and not having to rush in a dinner before, and then rush to the train home after, we opted for the afternoon, with plans for dinner after the concert. Also, when we were buying tickets, the afternoon show had ever so slightly better seats within our budgets.
I’d never been to Carnegie Hall before, and I was surprised by how vertical everything was. There were many stairs. (There’s also an elevator, just so you know if you need it.) I’d thought there was one more balcony above ours, but I guess I misread the seating charts, because we were right up there by the ceiling! Walking down to our seats kicked my fear of heights into gear just a little bit, even though we were a good six rows back from the front!
My friends had wishlists of things they were hoping would be played, and all of their boxes got checked! Very lucky! The only thing I wished afterwards was that they had played Dancing Mad for us instead of The Opera, but I knew when they did The Opera we weren’t getting Dancing Mad because they’re both from FFVI and both very long. I just didn’t like The Opera as much because I couldn’t understand what the soloists were singing (it was in English, they were just a little drowned out).
(I hadn’t heard the Distant Worlds version of Dancing Mad before I pulled this up to embed it, so I’m assuming the excessive amounts of pipe organ and electric instruments would be an obstacle to live performance, but also I’m SURE they would’ve made a touring arrangement that doesn’t require it, because I’m pretty sure Dancing Mad is a fan favorite. Anyway, moving on, lol…)
There’s something about live music that I really love, especially orchestral stuff. I was a band student when I was in school, played flute for a decade, so I just love getting to watch and pick out what all the different instruments are doing, because sometimes when you listen to a recording you hear something neat, but don’t know exactly which instrument did it, and I’m a nerd who thinks it’s cool to know.
Also, my friends feel that when they hear this music live, they can feel the emotions better than when they just listen to a recording. I get where they’re coming from, and I agree with it to an extent (and so do all the goosebumps I felt throughout the concert!), but also, I’m not entirely wired like they are. Music doesn’t often make me cry, but there are certain chord progressions that plug right into my emotional core and make me well up.
For instance, To Zanarkand, from FFX. I’ve played a good portion of FFX, but got derailed by a tough boss. From the moment I first heard this in the game, I thought it was lovely. But something about this particular arrangement had tearing up pretty badly. The section between 2:19 and 3:00 especially gets me. This section isn’t exactly present in the original version. There is an undercurrent of those eighth notes (I assume that’s what they are?) in the original, but somehow just the way Distant Worlds builds them out and harmonizes them and spotlights them gets my tear ducts going. I’ve nearly made myself cry about three times while writing this post when I was trying to figure out the timecodes for the part I noted above, lol.
The concert closed with an encore that included One Winged Angel (aka, Sephiroth’s theme from FFVII). They used this as an encore at the 2015 show as well, so it’s probably what they always do as an encore, because they must know that FFVII is one of the most popular games in the series and that’s one of the most famous songs. They make it fun for the audience though, by encouraging them to sing along to each of the loud SEPHIROTH’s in the song.
(Although as I recall, the singalong was a little more extensive in 2015, with subtitles on screen for all the Latin, or whatever that is in there. The composer Nobuo Uematsu was there, and he pointed at us when we were supposed to sing. But I think they might not’ve had a chorus at that performance? Or at least not for the second half?)
After the concert we made our way to dinner. And since this was my birthday outing, you bet your ass I dragged my friend’s asses down to Wagamama. Luckily, they all liked it! I would’ve felt bad if any of them said they didn’t like it (and I trust them not to lie to me about that, lol).
And then we basically ran to the train. Not because it was really late, but because it was super cold! I was wholly satisfied with this early birthday outing, and everyone had a good time, which is something that’s important to me. And also, I looked hella cute. All in all, a great day!
(If you think you’re interested in seeing Distant Worlds live, you can check out their website here. Not sponsored, obviously, just wanted to make your life a little easier!)