Otakon 2007
Eminence Concert Part 3

by Jonathan Mays, Aug 20th 2007

Scattered cheers among the applause. After a fantastic four-piece set, surely the audience can do better than that. Piano Squall returns. “How incredible is this concert today? There's nothing like these guys, but the best is yet to come.” The hyperbole cheapens their earlier work.

“For the next section of this concert, we're going to hear from a close friend of our special guest, Mr. Sakimoto, today. In fact I spent some time backstage speaking with him, and he told me some interesting stories that he wanted me to share about the next composer that we're going to hear. One of them is that they've been working together for many, many years. And they like to go out and drink together. They're big drinking buddies. I also learned that this next composer we're going to hear from, he started his life in something very different from music, actually, something that I know absolutely nothing about: sports. Yes, that's why I'm here, because I don't know anything about sports. [Laughs] But he was quite an athlete in his younger days, and it wasn't until high school that he really rediscovered his true calling: music. He went to undergraduate, obtained his degree in composition, at which point he met up with a man you might have heard of once or twice named Nobuo Uematsu.” Applause.

“Mr. Uematsu was currently employed, at the time, by a company called Squaresoft, and he showed Mitsuda, our next composer, an opportunity to work at Squaresoft as a sound designer, which he did. And he worked as a sound designer for a number of years and eventually became frustrated in that role and demanded that he be given the opportunity to compose. And that's what he did.”

Yura: “You forgot something.”

Squall: “Oh, thank you for the very accurate track list, Hiro. What else?”

Yura: “I'm more interested in how he actually got the job.”

Squall: “Hm, I don't actually know the story, but Hiro's actually a close friend of Mitsuda, so I'm going to let him MC the rest of this concert.”

Yura: “Sorry, I just want to share with you guys some behind the scenes, so to speak.”

Squall: “I'm not that behind-the-scenes, folks.”

Yura: “Well, Mr. Mitsuda applied, was looking for a job to compose. And he found a newspaper ad looking for composers at Squaresoft. And basically he went in and he saw Mr. Uematsu sitting behind the desk. His first question was, 'So, do you know Final Fantasy?' And Mr. Mitsuda goes, 'Well, actually, I love Dragon Quest.'”

Squall: “Ouch.”

Yura: “And then Mr. Uematsu was in a bit of shock, and his assistant was going, ‘Oh…’ And then his next question was, 'So how do you see Squaresoft changing your life, Mr. Mitsuda?' And he goes, 'Well, you know, I plan to take this as a stepping stone.' But his music was so good that he got the job anyway.” The crowd applauds respectfully.

Squall: “You hear that, folks? That's how easy it is to get a job in video game music, these days. You go in there and say, 'I'm a schmuck.' And you're in. Beautiful.” Ugh.

“The next three pieces we're going to hear, all work of the great composer Yasunori Mitsuda: 'Sailing to the World,' 'Wind Sea,' and 'Pain.'”

It doesn't sound like there will be a lot to “Sailing to the Wind.” Yura carries the melody, and everyone else toils in the background: Ito with arpeggios, the others with middling harmony an octave or two below the first violin. Of course, it is hard not to take Eminence's superior performing for granted by now, as the concert hits the 90-minute mark. Yura flubs an unnecessarily difficult arpeggio a bit, but after smooth sailing (sorry) for most of the piece, it makes for a jarring transition to the new melody. He recovers in plenty of time to lead the brief passage to its abrupt end.

"After a quick tuning check, the Destiny quintet plays the most famous pickup in video game history."
Violin and cello pizzicato add some spice to the next Mitsuda piece, as well as a viola melody. Marciniak hops through the part with ample accents and rests. He smoothes things out when Kao joins the spiccato party. Then they mirror each other, with Ito adding extra emphasis on the first and third beats. Choe throws in some stray notes as the other strings playing in unison. The strings set up the end of the melody, and Ito takes it home. Nicely done. But there's more: a triple meter interlude and a full repeat.

Yura: “I'm really sorry we don't have a program. We actually finalized the play list while we were in Japan a few days ago, and we actually did a concert in Japan on Monday with Mr. Sakimoto and Mr. Mitsuda and we could at least hit their works before coming to Otakon. I mean, we'd be idiots if we didn't play anime songs, right? So, we thought of playing “Thanatos,” but I don't think you guys would know where it came from.”

Audience: “Evangelion!”

So much for Mitsuda's “Pain.” Yura plays a rapid arpeggio up a few notes on the high E string and then down to the D, holding the last note while Marciniak continues the progression all the way down to C in a seamless handoff. Yura sinks into the grave theme as Marciniak marks every beat with half a bow stroke and a deliberate pause. Choe holds whole notes, and Ito watches. Kao takes the melody on a quick recap before trading with Merciniak, who substitutes ably for the occupied cello. Yura walks through the theme once more and brings the piece to a momentary halt before leading what I believe is a new twenty-second canon. A cello pluck marks the cutoff.

Yura holds the tempo into the second melody, using full bows to eschew the original's 70s kitsch. He finds energy instead in the double-time arpeggios, which now comprise of thirty-second notes. Kao lends his own speedy support for the first two measures and intermittently on the repetition. Choe and Marciniak get a little more action, but before they know it, Yura is lining up the last chord. In a deft finishing move, the strings jump to the brass line after the C, hitting the final B an octave higher.

Amid the applause, Yura, Kao, Choe, and Marciniak leave the stage. Terrence: “I hate when MCs change the order of progression. Actually, no, I meant musicians. Well, musicians hate it when we change the order of play, and then they hate it when we change it. But then, I don't know—”

Squall: “You know, I've had a question on my mind, but that's not it. That's not it, Terrence. The question that's been on my mind is, when we sat down, you know, a few months ago and spoke on the phone and we said, you know, 'We're going to plan this concert. We're going to get Eminence to the United States,' there was one question that I never really got answered, and it was something that was really difficult about making it all happen. Can you please explain to me, what is this mythical, far off land called Australia?”

Terrence: “It's a country.”

Squall: “See, that's what they say. They say it's a country. But as I did more research, I soon discovered—the first thing I noticed when I spoke to you was that you speak in a strange tongue that sounds a lot like English but not really. And as I did more research into the wildlife and the random encounters that one can find in Australia, I quickly discovered that you are home to rodents of extraordinary size with a gazillion hit points who hop on two feet and will punch you in the face for 10,000 damage if you give them a half a chance. I also noticed that your home is home to a weird mutant variety of miniature penguin that doesn't require cold water to survive. And finally, you are the only country in the world to have an orchestra that specializes in video game and anime music, and when I realized that, it suddenly became clear. Australia's not a country. It's a freaking RPG.”

Terrence: “But no, it's not that strange, and do I really talk like an Australian?” Audience: “Yes.”

Squall: “What? I didn't get that.”

Terrence: “Okay, because I went to college in the US.”

Squall: “Can I get a translator?”

Terrence: “[Pointing to Marciniak] I don't speak like this gentleman. But anyway, Australia's not that different. We have McDonald's everywhere, we have Burger King everywhere. These kangaroos, well, they don't have 10,000 hit points. They actually get one shot by, like, a Toyota Landcruiser every now and then.”

Squall: “Well, you know, compared to the rodents that line the streets of Baltimore, yours are much bigger.”

Terrence: “Oh, at least our streets are cleaner.” Audience: “Ooh.” “We are home to the premier, the best music production company specializing in video game and Japanese animation music, and my question to you is—and this is actually a serious one—why do you support Eminence when there are, as far as I hear, local American groups that appear to do what we're trying to do?"

Squall: “Just for the reason that you just said, there is no one in the world like Eminence, and that's why it was so important that when you made your debut North American appearance, it was right here at Otakon, the greatest convention in North America.

“And I also knew that you guys would feel at home in Baltimore. You know why? Because Baltimore's a lot like an RPG, too. People in Baltimore are so much like RPG characters that the townsfolk think nothing of walking into each other's houses and taking stuff without asking.” I don't care that the audience cheered. That was out of line.

Terrence: “I have nothing to say about that.”

Squall: “So how about you just announce the final pieces of this concert?”

Terrence: “Oh, actually, slight modification.”

Squall: “Never mind.”

Terrence: “Our next piece is a piano solo that should have been played previously. 'Pain' from Xenosaga—”

Squall: “Followed by 'Radical Dreamers.'”

Ito plays a straight take of “Pain” at a low volume, allowing the harmony four measures to warm up before she glides through the thin melody. Her performance is delicate and, of course, pitch perfect, but the two-minute arrangement gives her little to do. She stands and bows briefly.

Yura and Choe return to green lights. Yura: “The next piece is one of my favorite pieces by Mr. Mitsuda, “Radical Dreamers.'”

Picking up where her solo left off, Ito opens with rolling arpeggios at moderate speed, this time in D major. Yura positions his bow three beats before entering. What a beautiful melody. He takes a long breath before each piece of the phrase and an extra pause before the last three notes, the last of which Choe doubles, marking the start of her own solo section. Yura backs her up with half notes on the lower strings. About three minutes in, both string players draw long chords, accenting Ito's steady line and vice versa. A minute later, Yura and Choe fade out, holding their vibrato for a few extra beats as Ito slows to a stop on a perfect middle D sharp. The audience gives a second standing ovation.

Yura: “It's officially the end of the concert, but do you want some more?” I think that's a yes.

The others return. Yura: “I think the next piece doesn't need any introduction.”

After a quick tuning check, the Destiny quintet plays the most famous pickup in video game history. The crowd bursts to life, cheering and chuckling through the introduction. Yura, Kao, and Marciniak bounce through the melody while—sigh, how foolish am I to dissect the Super Mario Bros. theme? Ito chimes in with power-up and, uh, bad-encounter-with- a-Goomba sound effects, but the crowd doesn't catch on until she "acquires" a few coins. Soon enough, or maybe not, Ito plays half of the victory theme, and the strings, finally taking Terrence's advice, finish it with flair.

The crowd is too busy screaming to catch Marciniak's intro to Super Mario World, but they know how it goes. He and Kao have a grand time with the tune. Ito transitions to the dungeon theme, pounding on the piano as hard as she has all afternoon. Yura and the others milk all the drama they can out of the piece until Mario falls into a pit of lava or gets torched by Bowser. Then it's time for the “Mario Piano” tune. Yura plays a stylized version of the intro and Choe plucks along. Soon everyone gets in on the frantic action. But time's almost up! Double speed! They finish the “level” with only a moment to spare. Pause. Pluck! Stand and bow.

Yura: “You guys, I reckon we should play one more piece. Did I hear, 'Scars of Time?'”

One final time, Ito's rolling arpeggios introduce Yura's haunting theme. Choe covers the bass line; Kao and Marciniak anticipate their entrance. Fifty seconds in, Ito bursts into double time, and Kao and Marciniak trill a long note. Kao breaks out the spiccato sixteenth notes, muffing a tough transition but hitting his stride within two notes. Yura plays his heart out with hard accents on the first and third beats, and Ito nails a quick syncopated cut in the middle of the chaos. Choe and Marciniak slow the tempo for a recap without the piano, picking it back up when she returns. Two more runs at the theme, two quick chords, and wow, that's it—the most dynamic two minutes of the concert.

Terrence: “Thank you, everyone for coming in. You've been an awesome crowd, and it's been an honor to fly across the world to play in front of you. You've been simply amazing.”

Right back at you, Eminence. That was the best event I've ever seen at an anime convention. Next time: your place.


Set List

1. Kakki – Hitoshi Sakimoto (Romeo X Juliet)
2. Canta per me – Yuki Kajiura (Noir)
3. Hako no Niwa – Yasunori Mitsuda
4. Oshyaberi (Romeo X Juliet)
5. Odin Sphere Theme - Hitoshi Sakimoto
6. Grandpa's Violin – Yuki Kajiura (.hack//Liminality)
7. Princess Mononoke Theme – Joe Hisaishi
8. Castle in the Sky Theme – Joe Hisaishi
9. My Neighbor Totoro Theme – Joe Hisaishi
10. Ferris Wheel – Hitoshi Sakimoto
11. The Song - Toshihiko Sahashi
from Anna ni Issho Datta no ni by Yuki Kajiura (Gundam Seed)
12. Beyond the Clouds Theme - Tenmon
13. Romeo X Juliet Theme – Hitoshi Sakimoto
14. Hissou – Hitoshi Sakimoto (Romeo X Juliet)
15. Danran – Hitoshi Sakimoto (Romeo X Juliet)
16. Shissou – Hitoshi Sakimoto (Romeo X Juliet)
17. Sailing to the World – Yasunori Mitsuda
18. The Hill overlooking the WindmillYasunori Mitsuda
19. Thanatos – Shiro Sagisu (Evangelion)
20. Pain – Yasunori Mitsuda
21. Radical Dreamers - Yasunori Mitsuda

Encore

22. Super Mario Bros. - Koji Kondo et al
23. Scars of Time – Yasunori Mitsuda

Page 1 photos from Eminence's Destiny Reunion concert in Sydney, Australia.
Otakon photos by Oliver Oberg.

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