In this issue's cover story, writer Matt Hurwitz brings us inside the recent staging of the Final Fantasy concert at the new Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. In addition to being a cool, behind-the-scenes look at a complicated event, the story also illustrates the ability of modern presentation technology and techniques to compliment, rather than contrast with, traditional presentations of things like orchestral concerts.
While your typical orchestral performance usually does not include three video screens featuring CG animation, colorful rock-style lighting, tons of graphics, and wildly rabid, young videogame fanatics in the audience, the event still managed to artfully mix and match the classical music and video-game worlds. As Hurwitz points out, one of the world's leading orchestras — the Los Angeles Philharmonic, along with the Los Angeles Master Chorale — had to be talked into participating, according to producer Jason Michael Paul, a veteran production manager.
Still they did participate, as did the Disney Hall and some of the top design and staging talent in the country. According to Paul, they all had a blast despite the accelerated schedule and technical challenges.
Paul adds that the Final Fantasy concert concept came from similar events in Japan, but that the performance worked so well in Los Angeles that he is currently planning to launch a touring version, using local crews and orchestras in cities throughout the United States. Even beyond the video game genre, Paul and many of his peers feel this “uniting of universes,” as he refers to it, is already happening in the classical concert world, and he expects to see this trend continue.
“We are seeing more wild lighting and video for these types of concerts, even LED walls,” Paul says. “Major orchestras like the L.A. Philharmonic routinely perform scores from memorable movies at places like the Hollywood Bowl, and the goal for those kinds of shows is to raise production values and give the audience more of a show — more musicians, more video, more lighting, effects, all that stuff.”
Paul points out that with classical music, in particular, opportunities to add a “wow factor” to performances will continue to be limited, however, because of the cost of “the wow.”
“Most of these major orchestras, keep in mind, are non-profit organizations, so their budgets tend to be very low, and the venues they work in are not usually major arenas or stadiums,” he explains. “Usually, that limits the options — one or two screens, not three or four, and so on. Still, the trend of being able to do this type of show is growing. It's about this notion of putting a modern feel into traditional shows, and keeping up with the technology.
“I call this concept a cosmic blend. That's what we tried to do design-wise and theme-wise with the Final Fantasy show — bridge the gap. It's all about bridging the gap.”