The Legend of Zelda Symphony: Debating the merits of tonight's symphony excursion

Categories: Split Decision

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Catch the Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tonight at Boettcher Concert Hall.
Tonight at Boettcher Concert Hall, Denver will be graced with the four-part Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses tour, where audiences will see the legendary Nintendo game soundtrack scored by a collection of classically trained musicians. But is this just another gimmick to get people out to see the symphony, a trite beating of the proverbial dead-horse of millennial post-modernism? Or is it the culmination of a nostalgic generation, paying tribute to the 8-bit fantasies of their youth through a timeless medium? Patrick Rodgers and Josiah M Hesse enter our Split Decision thunderdome to debate the merits of tonight's symphony.

The original Legend of Zelda's 8-bit quest for Tri-Force ate up a lot of hours of my childhood; hours which I wouldn't have rather spent playing sports, reading books or otherwise bettering myself. Of the tens of thousands of pieces of music I've heard over the course of my life, the game's theme music is one of a select few that I can recall at a moment's notice. It holds a special place in my heart, but that doesn't mean I'm shelling out almost a hundred bucks for me and a date to listen to video game music as performed by professional musicians.

Video games are the new movies. Over the past few decades, they've expanded from arcades into our homes (just like movies went from theaters to VCRs to instant streaming), grown loyal audiences and spawned their own cultural niche, including gamer-centric magazines, retail outlets and merchandising. Games have big budgets, celebrity voice talent and marketing budgets, but at the end of the day, does that justify deconstructing one aspect of the Zelda franchise to capitalize on nostalgia?

What's next a live dramatic interpretation of Mario Bros. on Broadway? Or maybe the novelization of Donkey Kong? It's bad enough that Hollywood can't figure out how to make an original film worth watching - that we're subjected to this perpetual cycle of creative incest where everything showing on the big screen is a poorly done remake of something else (and actually just a vehicle for product placement). Are there really only two or three good scripts written per year? Doubtful. The problem is a fear to tread on the unknown waters of real creativity.

Are there no composers of interesting music in the world today? People whose lives have been dedicated to the study of music theory, who've endured the rigors of formal education, and who now compose music for to be performed simply for listening purposes (as opposed to dancing, per se)? In the name of developing and elevating our collective culture shouldn't we be using the opportunity to present live music to do more than just re-hash melodies that already have an audience of millions?

We could do better. We could be finding ways to support the great musical talents our time by presenting their creations to audiences -- rather than forcing all of them to either make pop music or write commercial jingles. But that would require risk taking, and in the highly commercialized world of cultural arts production there's little room for error when it comes to making ends meet. Better to play it safe and sell nostalgia.

When Igor Stravinsky debuted the Rite of Spring in Paris in 1913, the rhythmic intensity of the composition caused the audience to riot (they were used to more subdued Classical ballet influences). Now, that great artistic risk is one of the canonical pieces of Western music. It was in Fantasia. Where's all the music that makes people so emotional they riot, rather than just the music that makes everyone think about how much better life was when all they had to worry about was how to beat the next level?

-- Patrick Rodgers

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Boettcher Concert Hall

14th St & Curtis St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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4 comments
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Ophelia Millais
Ophelia Millais

I can't really sympathize with Patrick, because ever since Star Wars, orchestras have been performing shallow, bombastic soundtrack medleys for the masses. And for decades, composers have been churning out poo so decidedly un-riotous, it makes Celtic Woman feel like a GWAR show. This is nothing new, and the time to lament the situation is long past. If rehashing themes from beloved video games for people already fond of those compositions is what it takes to get a young crowd energized around orchestral and choral music—so energized they'll pay $60+ each, not counting parking and merch and the rest of their night out—then so be it. Besides, what would it take to be controversial now? It's all been done. You can't even use noise and dissonance, or tear apart the instruments and smash them, or not play them at all, or play novel arrangements of music from unexpected genres with rockers and rappers and synthesizers and drum machines ... it's all been done, absolutely nothing's surprising, shocking, or ahead of its time anymore. So really, just take what you can get. As for me, I've played several of the Zelda games and like the music, so I had a great time at the concert. I suppose I would've done the symphony differently—I find the gentle, recurring character and place themes far more emotionally resonant than the clamorous, crescendo and shouting-chorus-filled "battle music" that dominated the show—but I left feeling like I got my money's worth.

Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner

Miyamoto did not create the score to the original Legend of Zelda, Koji Kondo did.  In defense of the score, neither opinion brings up the "leit motif", Wagnerian inspired and used heavily by composers of every music genre since.  Whenever you hear the theme music, you don't think about the character Zelda, you think Link, or the stocky kid in green with the wooden sword (for any of you who didn't play the video game).  There are also many themes just as distinct and emotionally gripping (such as the "dungeon" theme).  The music is powerful because these main themes were well constructed.  Just as contemporary cellists make variations of Bach partitas, any group of performers can embellish upon a good theme from the Zelda soundtrack (which, by the way is not limited to one game); whether or not the end result is a good one depends upon the strength of the original score, however simple, and that of the musicians/composers reinterpreting it.

Jo__Jo
Jo__Jo

In the piece I did not say that Miyamoto created the score for Zelda, only the game itself.

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