The Ocarina of Sublime: The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert at the Pantages

Nintendo certainly knows how to throw a party, and never has this been more evident than it was last Friday night at the Legend of Zelda: 25th Anniversary Concert. The second video game symphony performance to grace L.A.’s social scene in so many months, this gala evening occurred right at the beautiful Pantages Theater (former host to the Academy Awards in the 1950’s) on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. This venue’s palatial airs and regal statues combined with Nintendo’s decorative golden Hylian Crest banners created the effect of actually being in the famous Hyrule Castle—home of the Princess Zelda.

Due to overcompensation for rush-hour traffic, I arrived at the concert two hours early. Under normal circumstances such a scheduling malfunction would have led to boredom, but not here: nearly everyone in the horrendously long entrance line had their 3DS out, and all were busy playing, chatting, and receiving SpotPasses (an exchange of Mii characters that occurs when two 3DS systems come into close contact). Without even needing to ask, I added my own 3DS into the fray and was immediately absorbed into groups playing Zelda: Four Swords, Star Fox 64, and Mario Kart. The play didn’t stop until I had settled down in my seat, as the lobby contained no less than eight demo stations running beta versions of the soon-to-be holiday blockbuster, Zelda: Skyward Sword—a game highly anticipated by fans, due to its incorporation of the gyroscopic Wii Motion Plus into the swordplay that so defines the Zelda franchise.

As with any good Hollywood production, Nintendo media crews were ever-present throughout the evening, recording all of the movement of the energetic crowd from every angle imaginable on extremely expensive 3D cameras. I was interviewed twice by Nintendo staff, and taped again while playing the Skyward Sword demo, an experience both exciting and unnerving. Even when the symphony began in earnest, the cameras continued rolling, I counted no fewer than five static television cameras, and one boom-mounted 3D camera (which kept obstructing my view… but I digress). Include the fact that the entire orchestra wore headsets, had microphones on their person and their instruments, and were all hooked into a digital metronome system, and the entire event felt like a true staged production—nothing less than what the world has come to expect from the Hollywood film industry.

As for the music itself, it was beautiful nearly beyond comparision. Conductor Eímer Noone and Zelda series producer Eiji Aonuma both expressed that they wished to take the audience on a journey through time, reaching back into our childhoods as we retraced 25 years of the Legend of Zelda franchise and the concert material did not disappoint. Orchestra Nova performed haunting renditions of 14 fan favorites, ranging from dark and menacing boss battle themes to haunting harp melodies with Zelda’s Lullaby and the Great Fairy’s Fountain Theme. Although the performance wasn’t without a few flubbed notes from the brass section, the music was consistently beautiful and emotional, and I often found myself wondering whether I hadn’t stumbled into a recording session for one of the modern games’ soundtracks. After all, the music of Zelda hasn’t changed a great deal over 25 years—the main themes have, instead, been rewritten with better and better orchestration as the technology improved, thereby making the concert, in many ways, the culmination of 25 years of musical refinement within the Zelda franchise.

As was to be expected, the crowd was energetic and excited. It was apparent that nearly every one of the more than 2,000 audience members knew every piece and the applause was often so thunderous as to drown out the first few bars of each song. The unexpected encore by composer Koji Kondo (of not only Zelda, but Mario, Metroid, and general Nintendo music fame) in particular triggered such emotion from the crowd that a few people could actually be heard crying (I only got a little misty-eyed). All too soon, however, the concert had ended, and the only way for us fans to console ourselves was to wait in line for hours at the poorly staffed merchandise booth, in a manner reminiscent of the launch of Nintendo’s last console.

Overall, a cynical person might say that the event was simply a three-hour long commercial for an upcoming Legend of Zelda game, but be that as it may, the music was still touchingly beautiful and the venue spectacular. What truly made this evening one to remember, though, were the fans themselves. It’s rare to see so many people of different ages and from different walks of life united in admiration and celebration of a game franchise that is at once classic and nostalgic, but also new and vibrant in creative ways. Thus, the Legend of Zelda lives on especially strong in the hearts of all those present, and that, for a gamer, is truly something worth celebrating.

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