“The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” is touring the world for its fourth consecutive year, to the delight of fans everywhere. The show started this year off with a new Master Quest tour and a new conductor: Amy Andersson. Earlier this week, Andersson allowed me to do a little conducting of my own by conducting an interview with her. Read on for her messages to Zelda music fans worldwide.
Hi Amy. For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, can you briefly tell us who you are and what you do?
Sure! I am the Music Director and Conductor of “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses,” which is currently on a two year international tour.
Tell us about your journey into the music industry. How did you get to where you are today?
I am a classically trained opera and orchestral conductor and received my bachelor’s degree in piano, voice and composition from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from the Mannes College of Music in New York City. I moved to Germany immediately after graduate school and starting working within a few months in German opera houses doing productions, as well as orchestra concerts. I worked in Germany for ten years, cutting my musical teeth on standard operatic and orchestral repertoire. It was through these many years of very hard work that I learned the art and skill of conducting and rehearsing. I also learned that conducting is a lifelong pursuit that only gets better with the years.
You’ve said before that you don’t typically play video games and haven’t played Zelda before. What is it like working closely with the music without having experienced the gameplay first?
Thank you for such an interesting question. “Symphony of the Goddesses” is musically deeply moving, unique and richly scored. Therein lies its brilliance. Although most audience members tend to be gamers, non-gamers such as parents and grandparents can come to the concerts not knowing the game, but leave the concert hall absolutely enthralled and excited. This is the reason why future audiences for these concerts will draw in all demographics. I also feel this symphony could be performed as a concert piece even without the video! Musically it is that strong and appealing. It is this strength which translates to me, as well as to the orchestral and choral musicians. Only a very small percentage of the musicians are gamers, while the rest of them are often not even familiar with the music. But the beauty of it is that as non-gaming professional musicians, we can rehearse and prepare for the concerts and give exciting and compelling performances without ever having played the game!
“‘Symphony of the Goddesses’ is musically deeply moving, unique and richly scored. Therein lies its brilliance.”
Video game scores remain a niche genre in the music world. What drew you to this type of music, and what do you think lies ahead for the genre?
I guest-conducted a few performances of “rePLAY: Symphony of Heroes,” another show from my producer Jason Michael Paul. We found we worked well together and I was subsequently invited to take the helm of the current tour of “Symphony of the Goddesses.” I was drawn to conduct this current show because of its unique and emotionally moving music. I will be nearing forty performances soon, and I remain for each performance inspired, excited and deeply honored to take the podium. What lies ahead for this genre can only be continued successes and more widespread visibility. Gaming is a phenomenon that is now firmly embedded in contemporary culture and will continue into the future, so video game music is here to stay!
Earlier this year when I spoke to Jason Michael Paul, the producer of “Symphony of the Goddesses,” he told me that he thought “video game music has established itself as some of the finest contemporary works.” How would you classify video game music?
I am often asked to compare video game music to other contemporary music. I think that comparisons of one musical genre against another are polarizing and, as a result, we may not see the value and beauty in each one. What I would say is that video game music is a legitimate art form, with many fabulous and talented composers working in the field. The scores from Final Fantasy by Nobuo Uematsu, Bioshock by Garry Schyman or The Elder Scrolls by Jeremy Soule certainly stand out in my mind as works of great creativity and musical substance. And of course, there is The Legend of Zelda by composer Koji Kondo and the team of talented orchestrators who have brought this all to life. This music occupies a special realm. All of these video scores, among others, have artistic value and a unique place in the contemporary music scene.
How does conducting “Symphony of the Goddesses” compare to conducting other performances?
Video game music is always conducted with a click track, which ensures that the music is in precise sync with the video visuals. That is the one difference between video game concerts and traditional, shall we say, concerts. The use of the click track eliminates any spontaneity or flexibility, whereas when I conduct without a click track, there is inherent freedom of tempo and expression. It takes time and skill to learn to conduct with a click track, and one of my tasks is to guard against the resulting sound being too mechanical and rigid. I pay particular attention to phrasing, voicing and bar structure, ensuring that the lyricism and expression is not lost in the mechanics of the click format.
“I hear from fans all the time who tell me that they cry. I always reassure them that they are not alone. I cry, too!”
What is special about music from The Legend of Zelda series in particular?
The emotional layers of tenderness, joy, melancholy and sadness are subtle but profound in the music of Zelda. It seems to be inevitable that tears will be shed when one hears the music. I hear from fans all the time who tell me that they cry. I always reassure them that they are not alone. I cry, too!
What is your favorite movement from the symphony? Why?
I love so many movements in the symphony that it is often a toss-up. The orchestrators of “Symphony of the Goddesses” did a brilliant job of capturing the themes of Koji Kondo. Chad Seiter, Susie Benchasil Seiter, Bill Panks and others bring to life through percussion, choir and orchestra the passion, emotions and energy that are inherently infused in the original music. I like The Wind Waker and how the orchestra musically surges as Link is on the sailboat. You can feel and hear the sailboat riding the waves in the orchestrations. You hear also the heroic themes in the brass and the pulsating of the strings that reflect the bravery and adventures of Link. I am also fond of Ocarina of Time for the tenderness of its themes, and “Time of the Falling Rain” for its ability of give me goose bumps and chills. Again, the orchestrators deserve recognition for their beautiful symphonic arrangements. They have brought to life the musical vision and language that composer Koji Kondo started creating so many years ago.
What is the hardest part of your job?
The hardest part of my job is the travel, I would say. The planes, trains and automobiles! I used to think the hardest part of my job was to put together the show and train each new orchestra in every new city. Now I feel the travel stress of changing new hotels constantly, and packing and repacking my suitcase is the hardest part! Remember the late, great actor John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles? Well, it is not that bad, but it does get disorienting!
What experience have you had with Zelda fans since you joined “Symphony of the Goddesses”?
The Zelda fans are the most dedicated, genuine and sweetest people I have ever met! I get visits backstage by Links and princesses of every age and background. It is touching and heartwarming to meet them and I am honored to sign and autograph their special items. I was given my Link as a present after our Seattle concert. Link is always on tour with me and I even post photos of him on Instagram visiting the orchestras. I also receive beautiful fan mail through my website. These emails are very moving and I cherish them very much.
Does it annoy you when fans applaud and cheer loudly while the musicians are performing?
On the contrary! The orchestra loves it and I love it! It is this atmosphere of spontaneity, physically and emotionally, that make it a thrill every time to conduct these concerts. I love it when the audience feels the space and freedom to react authentically and cheers and lets us know what they like. When they show us the love, we show them the love back!
“I love it when the audience feels the space and freedom to react authentically and cheers and lets us know what they like.”
What is it like to always work in a different city with a different orchestra and choir for each show?
Working with a different choir and orchestra in each city ensures that this work remains fresh and vibrant. Each choir and each orchestra all have their unique personalities and energies. At the end of rehearsals, I feel like I have made new friends and that we have become a team with the same mission: Bring it home for the fans who are waiting for us! It really invigorates and inspires me.
“Symphony of the Goddesses” can trace its origins to “The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony” performance at E3 2011, and is still going strong over four years later. What do you think the future holds for the show?
I feel the music of The Legend of Zelda will always hold a special place in the video game repertoire, whether or not the tour comes to a resting point at some time. The music is timeless, classic and iconic, and will always remain in the hearts of Zelda fans worldwide. We are booked for 2016 and looking forward to a busy year ahead.
Are you pursuing any other musical ventures at the moment? What would you like to work on next?
I have been composing and arranging jazz standards over the last two years, as well as learning the art of improvisation from my vocal teacher and mentor here in New York City, Carolyn Leonhart. As soon as my touring schedule frees up a bit, I will be singing in the city. At the same time, I am pursuing my conducting work and trying to fit in new projects.
Is there anything else you want to say to our readers?
Well, first of all thank you Nintendo News for the opportunity to talk to our fans. And secondly, I would like them to know I stand backstage before every show with a heart filled with gratitude. Gratitude for all the devotion, the musicians, my team and for the composers and orchestrators of “Symphony of the Goddesses.” I have been, and continue to be, very touched by this remarkable journey.
Nintendo News would like to thank Amy Andersson for her time and passionate answers. “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses” still has a packed world tour for 2015 and 2016. On Tuesday, October 13, Andersson will conduct segments from the symphony on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS.