Big in Japan for decades, symphonic concerts of that country’s most popular (and hummable) classic video game tunes have now hit critical mass in America. It’s a dream come true for fans of the blockbuster Nintendo series The Legend of Zelda, as Jason Michael Paul Productions presents the first-ever North American tour of its kind called The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.
With a high profile performance in Los Angeles last month hosted by Zelda Williams (the star of last year’s Nintendo DS commercials with papa Robin, who named her after the series’ eponymous princess), Symphony of the Goddesses is playing to packed houses and has dates lined up all the way through November. Next up are a pair of gigs at Jones Hall for the Performing Arts in Houston July 6-7.
In this exclusive interview, I caught up with JMP CEO and the show’s executive producer Jason Michael Paul to discuss his pioneering history of bringing video game concerts to America, the special surprises planned for the tour, and his rebuttal to Roger Ebert’s notorious opinion on the artistic merit of video games.
Tell us a little about how this concert tour came to be. How did you get Nintendo’s blessing?
I have been producing VGM concerts since 2004 when I created Dear Friends: Music from FINAL FANTASY. Since then I have produced successful concerts including “PLAY! A Video Game Symphony.” Given my track record and working history with Nintendo, it was natural for my company to participate in the 25th Anniversary of The Legend of Zelda with symphony concerts in Tokyo, Los Angeles, and London. My company also produced the orchestral CD that was included in the bundle with [the 2011 Wii game] Skyward Sword. The success of the opening of the Nintendo 2011 press event, the 25th Anniversary Concerts, and the recording paved the way for the license to produce The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.
How did The Legend of Zelda game series first appear on your radar?
In 1987, when my parents purchased it for me to play on my NES.
What’s your favorite Zelda game and why? How would you define the series’ appeal?
My favorite Zelda game is the latest release because I feel as if I contributed to the tile. I was honored to produce the orchestral CD that accompanied the release of the game. The series has appeal through excellent gameplay and music. Throughout its 25-year history Zelda has consistently featured a solid mixture of action, puzzles, battle, adventure gameplay, exploration, and questing.
Last year a 25th anniversary concert celebrating the series’ music was held in Los Angeles. Did your company have any involvement with that show, and what things will appear in this symphonic tour?
My company produced and promoted the 25th Anniversary concerts. It was truly an honor to do this for Nintendo. We worked very closely with [series composer] Koji Kondo and his team to create the best of Zelda.
The tour has played many different cities in North America so far. Have there been any big differences or surprises from crowd to crowd in terms of things like cosplay or fan reaction?
We still have many more dates on the schedule, which is available at www.zelda-symphony/schedule. Zelda fans are the best in every market—they are fanatical! This show, however, appeals to Zelda fans and regular music lovers alike.
In June, actress Zelda Williams hosted the Greek Theatre performance. What plans do you have for other specials guests on this tour? Who would you most want to get to appear?
We are considering an ocarina player to be included as part of this presentation. We have had Koji Kondo appear. It is our hope to have him come to a performance again.
The tour runs through November. What additional dates might be in the works that are not currently on the homepage’s schedule?
We are adding dates all the time, including this December. You can register for the newsletter and see the schedule at www.zelda-symphony.com.
As a producer, you’ve worked on previous symphonic game music performances like PLAY! and Dear Friends. What experiences with these came in handy when bringing Symphony of the Goddesses to life?
All of the experiences I have had are playing out perfectly with my latest creation. The partnership between Nintendo and my company to present this current show has been amazing. I am just thankful that Nintendo continues to support this project. Also, I have been blessed to amass a great deal of relationships with some of the most talented people in the world. The team that is working on PLAY! and The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses is by far the best team I have ever had the privilege of working with.
How does this tour compare to Video Games Live, another symphonic concert that plays game music like Zelda set to visuals and lighting effects?
It doesn’t really. I wouldn’t compare any of my productions to Video Games Live.
In 2010, Roger Ebert wrote a controversial blog post entitled Video Games Can Never Be Art. What’s your response to that?
I have proven that wrong since 2004 when I produced the first ever video game music concert in the United States to critical acclaim. The visuals and music can only be seen as art. Now in 2012 I am still doing it.
What are the chances a DVD will be filmed for fans that won’t be able to catch the tour?
You will be the first to know. Right now you can view the recording of the 25th Anniversary Orchestral CD on your 3DS, as well as on YouTube. That is all of the video we have right now.
After this tour, is the door open with Nintendo for future live music collaborations? A Mario or Metroid tour would definitely have wide appeal.
Please check out PLAY! A Video Game Symphony. We feature music from both Mario and Metroid. We also present music from Zelda. All of the arrangements are exclusive to PLAY!
Finally, imagine you’re allowed to do three other symphonic game music tours of your personal favorites. Which ones would you most like to introduce to a wider audience?
The Elder Scrolls, Castlevania, and a Nintendo symphonic tour.
The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses currently tours North America through Nov. 28. For more information, visit www.zelda-symphony.com. For more on Jason Michael Paul productions, visit www.jmppresents.com.
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