Dallas — The Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s performance of music from the video game series Final Fantasy was not the symphony concert you’re used to—nor was the audience what you’re used to. The spectacle began as soon as concertgoers entered the Meyerson, in which the atmosphere was more Comic-Con than classical. Audience members were dressed in everything from flip-flops and t-shirts to evening gowns and dinner jackets, as well as less-conventional attire.
Some attendees were cosplaying, dressing as characters from the video game. (Thus the guy with the long tail and the woman with cat’s ears.) Others were clothed in all manner of creative ensembles: a young woman in a 50s-era polka-dot dress with ample crinolines, another with the clothing and hair of a ’40s pinup, a young man in a black kilt with neon yellow trainers and matching socks, and a gentleman in an ascot. An ASCOT! My plus one and I reveled in the people-watching, as she wryly observed, “Well, next time we’ll know what to wear.”
The line for the merch table was far longer than the line for the bar, and these were fans who knew their stuff—and a show that knew its audience. Conductor Arnie Roth referenced various iterations of the Final Fantasy franchise—now up to 14, or should I say XIV, versions, with another soon to debut—asking for cheers when audience favorites were mentioned. (Final Fantasy VI seemed to be the crowd favorite.)
Projections of clips from the video games appeared on the screen behind the orchestra, from the pixelated first version in 1987 to the sophisticated and quite beautiful later editions. I haven’t played a video game (excepting Pokémon Go) since about 1982, so the intricacy of contemporary game design was a fascinating surprise.
And there was also music. While certainly the music received top billing, it was pretty clear that most concertgoers were there for the overall experience. But the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, assisted by the University of Texas at Arlington A Cappella Choir, directed by Karen Kenaston-French, brought polish and professionalism to composer Nobuo Uematsu’s music. Vocal soloist Susan Calloway, who performed on the original video game soundtrack, added a big voice and a bit of celebrity to the proceedings. Singers Kimber Carter, Richard Del Cristo Jr., Nicholas Kannenberg, and narrator Dennis Maher brought gravitas to the “opera” scene from Final Fantasy VI.
Composer Uematsu oddly was not credited in the program; instead, his name was buried in the notes. His music for Final Fantasy is a mix of fragmentary melodies in various styles. Some of his melodies are quite pretty, some playful, and some battle-scene appropriate. On the whole, though, the music is neither memorably hummable or especially innovative. Nevertheless, it suits its purpose ideally: gamers need music that fades into the background, that adds to the atmosphere but doesn’t distract from their play.
The Dallas Symphony, like most orchestras, needs to attract younger concertgoers to its performances if it is to remain viable long-term. This performance attracted plenty of millennials—indeed, the only blue-hairs I saw were twentysomethings with locks dyed hues of sapphire and turquoise. Still, it’s doubtful that many of these Final Fantasy fans will transition to buying tickets to a Classical series concert. The relatively inexpensive and informal ReMix performances at Dallas City Performance Hall seem to have better odds of selling younger audiences on the merits of orchestral concerts.