San Francisco Symphony performs classical music created for "Final Fantasy", while Walnut Creek's Diablo Actor's Ensemble reveals "Broadway Heat"!

Nobuo Uematsu - Famous music composer honored by San Francisco Symphony with "Distand Worlds - Music from Final Fantasy" Concert in San Francisco

Famed Japanese music composer, Nobuo Uematsu, has just been honored by San Francisco Symphony concert for his powerful body of work created for the prestigious Final Fantasy video games franchise!

It has been a long time since my wife and I have attended concerts at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. While I love opportunities to luxuriate in a world of classical music, it seemed hardly fair that I would be able to attend a particular concert or musical event and only offer you a remembrance or review of my experience, without the opportunity for you to experience the same event. As you are probably aware, many programs, many festivals, are for one evening’s performance or for a series of three or four days in succession.

For example, the San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT), will conduct a three week Gustav Mahler Festival consisting of three different symphonies, performed on four days each week, over the course of the three weeks, the first, Mahler's Sumphony No.1, will be presented between September 16th and September 20th. The second, Origins and Legacies, between September 23rd and September 26th. The third in the Festival Series will be Mahler's Symphony No. 5, all performed in the Davies Symphony Hall.

This event will follow the release of the final symphony in their Mahler recording project. This will include Symphony No. 8 and the Adagio from No.10 recorded on August 25th. Highlights of the festival include Mahler’s Rükert Lieder with mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, Mahler’s Symphonies No1 and 5, Songs for a Wayfarer (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen), with baritone Thomas Hampson as part of Michael Tilson Thomas exploration into the composer’s evolution. MTT will place emphasis on Mahler’s lesser known music, including Symphonies 3, 5 and 9 plus the Scherzo from Hans Rott’s Symphony in E major. Rott was Mahler’s contemporary and Mahler championed his music.

The Origin and Legacies program is being filmed by the Orchestra’s Keeping Score television series. Audio recordings of Susan Graham and Thomas Hampson’s performances will be recorded for the San Francisco Symphony’s Grammy-Award winning Mahler recording cycle.

Tickets for the Mahler Festival went on sale to the general public this past weekend. Tickets will range between $35 and $135. Call the SFS Ticket Services Office at (415) 864-6000 for additional information. The concerts will be held in the Davies Symphony Hall at 201 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

I hope to get more involved in reporting about upcoming symphony events throughout the summer, and in speaking of summer, the San Francisco Arts Commission has just presented two concerts in this season’s summer series called Summer and the Symphony. The first on Friday, the 17th of June was entitled Bugs Bunny on Broadway and focused on musical themes crafted from classical music well suited to the Disney cartoon character. The second, on Saturday evening, was entitled Distant Worlds: Music from FINAL FANTASY.

My step-daughter, Deborah, and I attended an incredible evening of symphonic ecstasy created specifically as soundtracks for the world of computer gaming, for over 20 years of game creation. “Distant Worlds: music from the Final Fantasy”, is a tribute to the video console role-playing game series, and more specifically to one of its musical and orchestration creation geniuses, Nobuo Uematsu.

The original Final Fantasy game was first created in 1987 and was released to be one of the games one could play with their Nintendo console. The Final fantasy franchise has evolved into extremely sophisticated video games that have now grown to over 14 different game series, consisting of more than 28 games and spin off creations. Nobuo Uematsu has created, written and conducted much of the music for the Final Fantasy game world.

I think most of us are familiar with how the motion picture industry has utilized classical style music to provide emotion building soundtracks for almost every movie, going as far back in time as the silent movie days. In similar fashion, classical style background music has been employed in the fantasy gaming industry to create an even greater emotional bond between game player and the input device and the super heroes they emulate and manipulate in their gaming world environment.

My daughter, who’s interest in Animation Arts led her to major in Japanese at San Francisco State University (where she graduated this past spring), began to share with my wife, Karen, and I, the diversity and beauty of the incredibly beautiful music incorporated in these games. I would never have known about this parallel world of classical music, written specifically for this purpose, without her input. I’m not talking about taking Beethoven or Bach or any of our most famous classical old world composers’ music and incorporating it into these game projects. What I am talking about is the incredible wealth of exquisite classical style music, created exclusively for the gaming industry, led primarily by the Japanese.

Deborah heard about this unique concert and we secured tickets just in time as the show was completely sold out in just a couple of days. We came away from this concert absolutely awe-struck, and thoroughly enjoyed the elaborately staged concert that allowed us to experience more fully this amazing repository of new classical music. Excerpts of the visual imagery associated with each gaming series for which the specific music was written was projected on a very large screen, enhancing the experience immensely.

Mr. Nobuo Uematsu was invited to come from Japan (he was also joined by some of the creators of the games themselves), to be acknowledged for his incredible contribution to this new musical media, for giving his artistic voice to these gaming creators’ imagination, providing this magnificent and melodic tapestry of sound for the gaming industry. Director Arnie Roth, who has been a principal conductor and collaborator with Mr. Uematsu on many of the Final Fantasy creations, was the guest conductor for this concert.

The richly rewarding vocal accompaniment was provided by soprano Leah Crocetto, mezzo-soprano Christine Abraham, tenor Andrew Bidlack and baritone Austin Kness.
Now with a new CD in hand from this concert, I plan to immerse myself in the rich melodic strains and victory overtures for the Final Fantasy gaming series. The next Final Fantasy concert will be in Vancouver, BC on October 8th, just in case you want to check this out.

Meanwhile, in Walnut Creek:

Diablo Actor’s Ensemble in Walnut Creek is currently presenting a new review of Broadway songs and musical numbers entitled, “Broadway Heat”, a musical appetizer created and directed by Samantha Fryer and musical director, Jonathan Casas.

In some ways this production reminds me of a wedding wish, something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. “Broadway Heat”, is an opportunity for you to become acquainted with some of the new Broadway musical numbers that are sure to be “Tony” nominees in the near future. In addition, it can be a soft shoe walk down memory lane, where some of the oldies and goodies still strike heart-felt cords of remembrance.

The musical numbers that are delivered are from outstanding Broadway shows such as Avenue Q; Rock of Ages; Jersey Boys; Next to Normal; 13!; Wicked; Mamma Mia; Little Mermaid; Mary Poppins; Lion King; Nine to Five; Billy Elliott; Spring Awakening; and Hairspray.

The promotional press advertising this show, promised us that we could enjoy what is “hot” on Broadway right now without having to purchase an airline ticket and flying to New York.

Unfortunately, at this time, that isn’t quite true in all aspects. The promising new “middle school” musical show, 13!, which opened in New York on October 5th, 2008 with some pretty encouraging reviews at the Bernard Theatre (the old Royale Theatre), closed on January 5th after only 105 regular performances and at present, plans for a touring show are on hold. Spring Awakening has also closed on Broadway and has been on tour nationwide and will be in Sacramento in November of this year. I think what the creators of this show are really trying to demonstrate to us is the immense diversity of theatre that is available on Broadway at any one time, hoping to give you just a little taste.

Many of us are somewhat familiar with shows such as Mary Poppins, Nine To Five, the Lion King, Little Mermaid, Wicked and Mamma Mia, and while the music from many shows that are currently doing well on Broadway is fresh and very enjoyable, it was hard for me to really grasp the excitement of the Broadway shows in this production, because some of the numbers just didn’t garner much excitement for me. The energy is high, the want-to is definitely there, but while some of the cast were really quite excellent, unfortunately, some of the cast members are just not strong enough to deliver what this show requires. Some of the songs chosen are beyond the capabilities of some of the singers. Remember that this is a community theatre that provides an opportunity for amateur talent to spread their wings, a valuable asset in our community that needs to be fostered, financed and supported.

There were several actors and performers who deserve kudos as doing an outstanding job, including Elizabeth Curtis, Justin Johnson, Megan Briggs and Bill Clemente. Mr. Clemente, while taking on the role of narrator/ticket hustler, delivered a very solid, humorous and enjoyable performance, - - - and he didn’t sing a note!

As much as I would love to be able to give my unreserved assurances and recommend this show, I have to mellow my recommendation and say that even with a few warts, it still is a very enjoyable show, and certainly worth the most reasonable price of admission, which ranges between $10 to $25. The band, which consisted of a keyboardist and drummer, under the direction of keyboardist Jonathan Casas, was exceptionally good and entertaining. Scott Hansen plays a wicked set of drums and delivers some very pointed percussion pieces.

“Broadway Heat” continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m., now through August 9th. The Diablo Actors Ensemble Theatre is located at 1234 Locust Street, just half a block north of Olympic and Locust Streets and next door to Peet’s Coffee. There is plenty of public parking in a garage across the street from the theatre. For ticket reservations, call 866-811-4111 or go on line to For general information on Diablo Actor’s Ensemble, call (925) 482-5110.