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Zelda Symphony London: Special Report

Nintendo held its Legend of Zelda Symphony celebration in London this week. Gamereactor's David Caballero attended the evening and here gives us his thoughts on a night that proved a special occasion for many fans.

Tokyo, Los Angeles and London. Nothing more, nothing less. The tour of the Symphony's 25th Anniversary Zelda struck three major cities, three capitals of the three major markets. For most, the choice was simple: resignedly await a report or try to attend the meeting nearest you.

We chose the second option, duelling for a ticket via online sale outlets, organising flights, hotels, planning travel routes and queueing for entry, all without the usual pressures and advantages of press events, and all the better for it. Because this was personal.

The public gathered at the gates of the HMV Hammersmith Apollo watched members of the London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra entering with their instruments. The streets were rammed, excitement contagious. All knew we were about to witness something fantastic, and the Zelda community readied to celebrate the birthday of a series whose memories carried with them through the years.

Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
This promises to be a great show.
Zelda Symphony London: Special ReportZelda Symphony London: Special Report
We got over 100 Mii ecnounters - there was many Norwegian Zelda fans in attendance.

The auditorium's red and gold facade heralded a grandeur to the proceedings, elegantly dominating banners, framed in black and gold, draped from the walls. Promotional videos played were projected onto centre panel. Spotting and digesting the huge range of cosplayers filtered through the crowds entertained as we waited entry into the orchestral hall. Greens constantly blinked indicating new 3DS Mii encounters, while the game to play, of course, was The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition.

6.30 was the official start time, but we would enter half an hour late, and the music wouldn't sound until a quarter to eight. Fans were in no hurry, happily working through the expensive merchandise stands, bars or demo stands for The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

But then the moment came. We filed into the hall, collected a beautiful program commemorating the event, sought our seats and felt our hearts start to race as the orchestra tuned their instruments. Then the lights faded, and silence.

Out onto stage stepped /Eiji Aonuma, and fans broke into applause when they saw him. "Do you know me?" he asked. London would be the last of the three concerts that made the tour. We knew it was to be unique, but the first notes as the concert began confirmed it.

Zelda Symphony London: Special ReportZelda Symphony London: Special Report
Apollo's entrance hall was set up for the legendary event.
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Eiji Aonuma jumped on stage to open and close the show.
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Wind Waker's themes were matched with simple - but evocative - imagery.

The performance began with power and majesty. Trumpets sounded to begin the first piece, Hyrule Castle, the notes resounding around the hall, welcoming us to the show and making us feel like we were within Zelda's home. It was a simple and effective build to what was to come.

The orchestra, lead by acclaimed Irish director Eimear Noone, was bathed in lights synced to each musical flourish, while a large projection screen behind them served to illustrate the music which interweaving the many stories, places and themes from Hyrule's history.

These videos never dominated but served as an emotional boost to the memories the music invoked. Sometimes they were conceptual images or elemental - fire, earth, water, forests, grasslands, ash - in others small slices of gameplay, be it from the NES days or a Wii cutscene. The synchronisation of music, images, lights and colours only amplified the experience.

While Noone spoke briefly about the music between pieces, and Aonuma played, for the most part, the role of presenter for the evening, Nintendo had held back an ace in the hole. One of the surprises of the event was the appearance of Zelda Williams on stage.

The daughter of actor Robin - and as all franchise fans know, named specifically after Hyrule's Princess - is an icon to fans, who showed their appreciation in the second ovation of the night (as well as a shout of "you're gorgeous" from one audience member). Her sweetness, youth and natural charm perfectly embodied the personality of the series, and is so is a great ambassador for the Legend of Zelda, and she talked about the series and its music in a presentation that was clearly heartfelt.

Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Concept art and changing colours surrounded the musicians.
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Is Apollo now a Zelda temple?

But is was easy to get excited, with so many emotions bubbling to the surface, the kind very few games manage to elicit from fans. Smiles, watery eyes and silly faces greeted many of the pieces. Zelda's Lullaby piece, played with violins, left hairs on end for the rest of the night. And it was only the second arrangement.

Special mention should be made of the The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker suite. The visuals took on new value, as music and video cuts charted the important events of the adventure. The cartoon style again enhanced character expressions, and made the audience homesick for a world that's nearly a decade old. The shear quality of the compositions, daringly done in new style that emphasised their Irish elements all the more, meant this section was one of the best of the night.

Proceedings were broken up with introductions to each section of the orchestra in turn. Usually a boring enterprise, but ultimately proving lively, funny and fun as each played a different Ocarina tune from Ocarina of Time. Nineteen in all, with the entire orchestra joining in on the final piece - Song of Storms. The choice of finisher perhaps a nod to the UK's weather?

Zelda Symphony London: Special ReportZelda Symphony London: Special Report
With his Goron tunic, red Link can better stand Twinrova witches' attacks
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Sometimes, you don't need an elaborated costume to pay tribute to your favorite series.
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Wallets suffered: 25 pounds for those shirts, 20 for the posters. And they sold like hotcakes.

Pieces were themed across medleys, games and specific groupings, such as an epic Boss Battle Medley. There was entire piece dedicated to Kakariko Village, and the first part of the night finished with a Zelda 25th Anniversary Medley that sampled themes from Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Spirit Tracks.

Ganondorf's theme started the section section of the evening, honouring the eternal adversary to our green-clad hero, and we also swept into a The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess penultimate piece, the penultimate Zelda title receiving the same treatment as Wind Waker, retelling the story from start to finish.

Zelda Symphony London: Special ReportZelda Symphony London: Special Report
The lands of Hyrule (left) and the epic Ganondorf battle (right).
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Everyone loves Zelda Williams. She's like the best ambassador for the series.

Innovation in compositions was very appreciated. Gerudo Valley was prime example, removing the flamenco guitars associated with the track and instead giving us an intensely epic piece that built slowly and was almost unrecognisable due to its new structure - but was also very exciting because of it.

The cue of Hyrule Field returned to the traditional music introduced in Ocarina and transported the audience to the hilly terrain explored so thoroughly back in the 90s or earlier this year. Likely the most magical moment of the night for many though was the Great Fairy Fountain's Theme, harps joining with a chorus of voices, and coupled with light particles raining down on stage.

According to the program, the last piece was the main theme of the series, its sweeping composition causing the audience's standing ovation at its end to go on past the one minute mark. Yet the program was to be a lie.

Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Harps were the main focus during The Great Fairy's Fountain Theme and Skyward Sword's orchestrated harp trailer.
Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Many retro moments here and there. MIDI sounds became orchestrated magic.
Zelda Symphony London: Special ReportZelda Symphony London: Special Report
The beautiful and fan-servant program, signed by the Miyamoto-Aonuma-Kondo "Triforce".

The first of two surprises that closed the evening proper were two "bonus tracks", first a piano piece by Koji Kondo, second, Skyward Sword's Harp trailer.

The composer bowed over the keys to play Wind Waker's Grandmother theme. The choice was exquisite, the familiarity and interpretation inviting throats to close over.

Closure came in the only fitting way possible - celebrating the future of the series. After a few words from Aonuma, explaining how series creator Miyamoto would be envious of the night the audience had experienced, the orchestra played out with a musical piece that accompanied a special Skyward Sword video (seen below) which opened with Zelda playing a harp, the notes played by the harpists below, the mirror effect enriching the experience tenfold.

It was an evening that transcended the game world, and proved just how powerful the Zelda series is, and how strong Kondo's work is. It's our fervent hope that Nintendo don't just limit the memory of this occasion to Skyward Sword's bonus CD. It's an experience that should be glorified - be it as a full soundtrack, or better, as a video document who's fidelity can be shared by fans worldwide for years to come.

Zelda Symphony London: Special Report
Princess Zelda is using some playback here, for the sound comes from those actual harpists. Watch the full trailer below.

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