Listen to the first few poignant notes of Final Fantasy X’s main theme To Zanarkand, and you would be forgiven for thinking it was an excerpt from one of Chopin’s melancholic nocturnes.
That’s a testament to just how far video game music has come from the beeps and chirps of the 8-bit era, when all the designers had to work with were basic tone synthesisers. Luckily, you won’t have to relive those dark days at the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra x Final Fantasy: Final Symphony taking place at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre on November 22 and 23.
Featuring music from Final Fantasy VI, VII, and X, gaming fans and classical music lovers alike will be able to enjoy orchestral arrangements of these beloved entries in the long-running RPG series. It’s this crossover interaction between members of different fan bases that Fung Lam, HKPhil’s Director of Artistic Planning, hopes will bring the joys of classical music to a wider audience.
“It’s very important to me that as many people as possible experience the majesty of a live performance, with an entire symphony orchestra. Final Fantasy is a famous series, and hopefully this concert can introduce different types of music to both sets of fans,” he said.
Kwan Sheung-fung who plays cor anglais (or English horn) and is one of the youngest members of the orchestra, agrees. Being an avid Final Fantasy fan himself, he wants non-gamers, too, to appreciate the splendid quality of music in the triple-A titles.
“When pop singer Faye Wong performed the FFVIII theme song Eyes On Me, it brought game music into the consciousness of the general public. Everyone realised game production could really be elevated into an art form,” Kwan said.
As the only cor anglais player in the entire orchestra, it’s crucial that Kwan prepares adequately for every concert. With the busy schedule of a professional musician, he could be practising pieces from three or four different concerts at any given time, and consistently rehearses for more than two hours a day, either alone or with the orchestra.
Rather like his favourite Final Fantasy character, the black mage Vivi from FFIX, Kwan has a shy yet charismatic presence without his instrument. And like Vivi, he really steps up his game when it counts. As he played the opening bars from an iconic moment in FFX for Young Post as a preview, his skill and dedication to his craft really shine through.
He looks back on his journey and is grateful to be doing what he loves for a living. “Though being a musician is really a long and tough road, it’s a blessing to be doing something I really love,” said Kwan. “Reaching a milestone in the field of music is not a step-by-step process. You may work hard for 10 years and achieve nothing, but when you suddenly get your break, it will all be worth it.”
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Kwan’s not the only one working hard to bring you the best Final Fantasy concert possible later this month. Conductor Philip Chu will need to think about how to create a coherent musical experience that is true to the much-loved game.
“Looking at the score, I think the bass section will need to receive a bigger focus, compared to other classical pieces. This will be important in making the entire sound as close to the original atmosphere from the game as possible,” Chu said.
Whether you’re an avid fan of the venerable series, or just looking to experience a different genre of game music, Final Symphony could be your gateway to a brand new world of fantasy and fun.
Tickets are available from Urbtix.