As an avid fan and advocate of the Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy concerts, I get excited when the series announces new content. Naturally, when the team announced a smaller, more ‘personalized’ concert series called A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy, ‘excited’ quickly turned into ‘ecstatic’.
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview conductor, Arnie Roth, about the A New World show in Houston on December 12th. Unlike Distant Worlds, the A New World series aims to introduce “audiences to the music from FINAL FANTASY on a personal and intimate scale that has yet to be experienced” by featuring a variety of musical arrangements from the Final Fantasy series that are played by an 11-piece chamber orchestra. The interview can be read in its entirety below.
Williams: The name says it all: ‘intimate’ music from Final Fantasy. This concert series is supposed to give Final Fantasy fans a more ‘personal’ experience with the music, correct?
Roth: That was the idea. I am glad you agree that word explains it well.
Williams: What prompted the creation of this new, more personal concert experience?
Roth: We felt there were many cases around the world where large pockets of fans would love to hear a Final Fantasy concert. However, because some locations have limitations (cost, musicians, etc.), it is difficult to host a Distant Worlds concert there (For instance: conventions, college campuses). To resolve this, we thought it would be nice to present the music of Final Fantasy in the same conceptual format as Distant Worlds, but featuring chamber music. As you know with Distant Worlds, we are not presenting arrangers’ fantasies based on music from Final Fantasy. We are creating full orchestrations that closely resemble the way fans heard the music in the original game release. That is also the goal for A New World. Even though the chamber orchestra is distilled down to 11 members, we are still dedicated to presenting the music as fans heard it in the game. We try not to get involved with too many arrangers and excess material that is not from the game. It is very clear in A New World that these orchestrations are tied very closely to how they are heard in the game. We are working directly with Nobuo Uematsu and Square Enix on all of these arrangements. There is quite an elaborate approval process that goes on with the composers. We worked with Hitoshi Sakimoto for our performances in Paris. We have also worked with Naoshi Mizuta and Masashi Hamauzu. It is a great joy to put these things together.
Williams: You picked a great location for this smaller concert in Houston. Strude Hall is a premier spot. It will also be a delight to hear the local Houston string quartet, the Axiom String Quartet, play this music.
Roth: We are very fortunate to have them playing with us. We are also excited to have Benyamin Nuss joining us. Benyamin is a renowned concert pianist, but he is especially experienced in playing the music of Uematsu and other video game composers. He even has his own series of solo records out. He is becoming a regular with A New World. He was with us in Paris last week.
Williams: I heard his music on YouTube from the London concert and his rendition of “Those Who Fight”. I was breathless after hearing it.
Roth: It is a very exciting version of “Those Who Fight”. That was an official Square Enix arrangement done by Shiro Hamaguchi. Hamaguchi worked with Uematsu on both many orchestral and chamber music arrangements in Japan, way before Distant Worlds. They are still classic arrangements – very beautifully done. For the Houston show, we will have 2-3 piano solos, 2 string quartet pieces, duets, quartets, and pieces where all 11 members are playing. The pieces have all different combinations, and it is a beautiful thing. Like you said yourself: if you pick a great hall where the music can be heard well by a smaller audience, then it is a wonderful experience! It is fun to play the music in this ‘purer’ form. We love Distant Worlds, and will continue to do that…but it is such a grandiose production. Sometimes, some of the smaller touches of orchestration can get swallowed up in the massive sound. The fans know and love that, but the A New World concert series is a refreshing experience. We have gotten great reaction about it so far.
Williams: I can tell – you have sold out many of your shows, correct? That is unanimously positive feedback.
Roth: We have. We find that anime conventions are a great fit for this music, and those have sold out very quickly too. The fans that are attending these anime conventions, end up signing up to see this concert. So far, A New World has been performed at Anime Central (Chicago) and Otakuthon (Montreal). In both cases, the concerts sold out very quickly. I find that there is an overlap with Final Fantasy fans and anime conventions, than say…generic comic book conventions. It certainly is a good concentration of fans.
Williams: It is always good to find that niche. What do you get most excited about when you are prepping for these more intimate concerts?
Roth: One of the tasks I have is coming up with the specific music set list. That happens with Distant Worlds as well. With A New World however, we have much more flexibility to add/remove pieces. So far, we have added new scores at nearly every other A New World concert. This is just our first year in existence. We will be bringing some of those new pieces to Houston with us. For instance: Final Fantasy V’s “Home Sweet Home”, and Final Fantasy IX’s “Danger in the Forest”. These are pieces not on the original A New World recording, and we did not play them in the first half of our A New World concerts. We started first playing them in Paris, and are having a great time with it.
Williams: When you are playing with these smaller chamber ensembles, are there pieces you cannot play in A New World that are originally played in Distant Worlds?
Roth: All things can be orchestrated and distilled to smaller elements. For instance: one could play “Vamo alla Flamenco”. It would be possible to do a reduced version of it. However, we (along with Square Enix) wanted to make sure that we were introducing new repertoire, and were not simply re-orchestrating the music from Distant Worlds into A New World. We did keep two classics from Distant Worlds and incorporated them into A New World, however: “One Winged Angel” and “Zanarkand”. But the rest of A New World’s repertoire is completely different from Distant Worlds. For instance: we have a Mogul Medley in A New World, which we have not done yet in Distant Worlds. As you know, the music catalog for Final Fantasy is infinite.
Williams: You mention that one of the two classic pieces you keep from Distant Worlds in A New World is “One Winged Angel”. Are there singers in the chamber music version?
Roth: There is no vocal at all in A New World. That was somewhat purposeful in not wanting a choir. It is possible in the future that we may bring in a future solo vocalist for specific pieces. However, we really are having fun with this reduced instrumentation version, and I do not see that on the horizon immediately.
Williams: It should still be a great piece to listen to. Thank you again for the interview, Arnie!
Roth: Thank you!