12 years after Merregnon Studios became the first company to stage and produce a video game music concert outside of Japan in 2003, the team, lead by studio founder Thomas Böcker, are heading back to the homeland of video game music for another world first.
Apparently not content with simply breaking records in Europe, Böcker has invited the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) to become the first non-Japanese orchestra to perform a video game concert in Japan by opening the Japanese leg of the Final Symphony II tour on September 27 in Osaka.
The LSO will then perform Final Symphony II another two times at the Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall on October 4, showcasing new arrangements of some of Nobuo Uematsu’s most treasured themes from Final Fantasy V, VIII and IX, as well as a new suite of music from Final Fantasy XIII.
To find out more about the LSO’s unprecedented concert, we caught up with the man behind the music, Merregnon’s Thomas Böcker.
Side One: How big of a statement is this concert? What do you think it means for the video game music industry?
Thomas: It is a bold statement for sure. It is not only a triumph for the music of Final Fantasy, but also the whole genre of video game music in general.
I think that – having said this – it is natural that the compositions of Nobuo Uematsu and Masashi Hamauzu have been chosen for this premiere, though: their soundtracks define what video game music stands for. We should not forget that Nobuo Uematsu was one of the first few pioneers in putting on video game concerts in Japan, so the whole concert movement is partly in thanks to him.
Why did you choose the London Symphony Orchestra?
The LSO always has been very close to my heart. I grew up listening to their recordings, from movies such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and many others. I am a huge admirer of John Williams’ film compositions so I can’t imagine a better orchestra to work with. Years ago I also attended live concerts at London’s Barbican, with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith conducting the LSO, so I feel like I have a very strong emotional link with them.
From a professional standpoint, the LSO is the perfect ensemble. Thanks to their film recording history the LSO is well known among the younger audience, which isn’t an easy feat for any orchestra to achieve. Last but by absolutely no means least, the LSO is a world-class orchestra, and one of the best we have internationally. Hearing them perform is a life-changing experience – there I go again, talking about the emotional part! – and it’s just a dream to work with them, quite honestly.
Did the LSO need much convincing?
It certainly needed some time when I approached them back in 2012 to discuss Final Symphony, the result of which was their first ever live performance of video game music in 2013. However, the LSO is famous for being open-minded. As long as the music is both high quality and a challenge, I think they are very willing to experiment. Something other orchestras could learn a thing or two from.
Instead of just endlessly discussing approaches on how to bring a new, younger audience to the concert halls, they agreed on a video game music project, on Final Symphony, and we achieved great success from it. And it does not stop there – all of our three performances with the LSO have sold out.
How long have you been trying to organise something like this? Why do you think now is the right time?
I have been producing video game music concerts since 2003. Certainly, we could have tried to bring a foreign orchestra to Japan before. However, it is important to keep in mind the major logistical effort required to travel to Japan with a team of more than 100. It needs a lot of experience on many different levels, and I think we’ve had to grow this naturally over the last few years, so that we are now not only able to go to Japan for Final Symphony II, but to also present it in the best possible way.
Merregnon Studios has previously worked on two concerts with the LSO, with the third this September, plus our Abbey Road Studios recording of Final Symphony. There’s a high level of appreciation now between all the involved parties. Kajimoto, our promoter in Japan, has worked with the LSO and other prestigious orchestras from around the world for many, many years, so now we have the perfect combination of professionalism and trust that is a must for such a huge undertaking.
It should also be said that we owe a lot to Square Enix, for helping, supporting and coordinating. It is a really big deal to approve these concerts on home ground, so getting the permission is a huge honour and I would like to use this chance to thank them.
What has the reaction been like in Japan? Is everyone just as excited as we are?
Absolutely. There are many fans of the LSO in Japan, and I get e-mails from people there telling me that they never, ever expected to hear the LSO performing live in concert. Now with Final Symphony II, they’ll be able to hear music from Final Fantasy, performed by the LSO, in their home country, at affordable prices.
Generally speaking, when foreign orchestras travel to Japan, ticket prices are very, very high, which is no wonder given the costs involved. The LSO, Square Enix, Kajimoto and Merregnon Studios have come together and managed to find a solution to that problem, a compromise, which I think is so important to open the opportunity for even younger Japanese fans to attend.
It really is a bit unbelievable for lots of people, myself included, so they probably won’t be able to accept it as reality until it happens.
We are expecting about 7,000 fans to show up to our performances, so this is by far the biggest production Merregnon Studios has ever put on in Japan.
Fans know us previously from Symphonic Fantasies Tokyo and Final Symphony Tokyo, both of which, I am happy to say, got very good reviews and a lot of praise. So the expectations of the fans will be sky-high, particularly as it will be only a few weeks after the world premiere in Germany and performed by one of the leading orchestras in the world!
What does the future hold for video game music? Where would you like the see the industry in another 10 years?
My hope for the industry is that we will see more musically minded producers. Too often I see promising composers limited by doubtful decisions of the management. They should start listening to music. A lot of music, as well as different genres to become inspired by what they hear. Above all else, they must be brave and trust their composer’s intuition, even if it might be against what is expected.
It would open the door to a much more exciting world for soundtracks.
Finally, what’s next for Merregnon? Are you even allowed to let us in on what you’re doing next?
Besides our concert productions, which we intend to present in more countries in the coming years, Merregnon Studios also provides arrangement and composition services; previously we’ve worked on Dragon’s Dogma, Mobile Suit Gundam Side Stories, Cities: Skylines and Albion Online. Our team wishes to continue on this path as well, so I think we will be more than busy with video game music, which is a fantastic thing to say.
Thanks to Thomas for his time. To find out more about Merregnon’s work, head to their official website.
Heading to Japan later this year? Well, why not visit the LSO while they’re in town? Tickets to the concert are available here.