A 60-Piece Orchestra Takes on the Legend of Zelda at the Arsht Center

Growing up, I had a friend whose dad was older and often in poor health. He was a Cuban immigrant who spoke very little English. He did, however, speak one language: Zelda.

Day in and day out, homebound because of his illnesses, this man in his 70s who had more in common with the Greatest Generation than with Generation X, played and repeatedly conquered Nintendo's landmark action/adventure/puzzle game. This was in the mid-'90s, when more advanced consoles than the original Nintendo Entertainment System existed. Yet there was an unmatched allure and a comfort to Link's 8-bit quest to find the Tri Force and save Hyrule.

One of the elements of the Legend of Zelda — and the titles that followed — that appealed to my buddy's father and to countless gamers worldwide is the music. Over the course of the franchise's 30-year history, the gorgeous, film-quality soundtracks that accompany each game are, in their own right, works of art.

The theme music for the original 1986 version is, to some, as recognizable as anything John Williams ever wrote for Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Composed by Koji Kondo, a legend in the videogame industry, the first Zelda theme has gone on to inspire every other game in the line. In 2011, the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda, Nintendo commissioned a special trio of concerts to celebrate that music and its place in pop culture.

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    The show's producer, Jason Michael Paul, is one of the people responsible for bringing that show — and the followups, Symphony of the Goddesses and 2016 sequel Master Quest — to life. We spoke with Paul ahead of the show’s South Florida premiere at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. Master Quest is an updated edition of the Symphony of the Goddesses, a two-act, four-movement symphony that last toured the country in 2013. Paul himself has worked with opera luminaries such as Luciano Pavarotti and the Three Tenors and has extensive experience crafting concerts and musical companion pieces for Nintendo, two areas cleverly united for the upcoming concert.

    New Times: Why did you get involved with this franchise in particular?
    Jason Michael Paul: Next to Final Fantasy, it’s the most storied and the most heralded as far as the music and as far as the visuals. It has a rich 30-year history of superior gameplay and puzzling. It’s one of the best franchises that continues today.

    Why Zelda? Where did the idea for a Zelda concert come from?
    That was just through the effort of Nintendo wanting to get behind the 25th anniversary. They asked me to do a series of concerts. One in London, one in L.A., one in Tokyo. I was like, sure. That was originally supposed to be a one-off show, but the success of that led to the Symphony of the Goddesses tour after that. I also did an orchestral CD that was part of the bundle for the tour.

    Is it all in-game music or are there any original pieces?
    We focus on the movements; we focus on the Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, some of the other various iconic titles, like Ocarina of Time. In some movements we’ll focus on the one game in particular and some of the other ones, for example the overture; we’ll do a mashup of all the games and part of the main theme. We’re taking music that was never intended to be performed by an orchestra and we’re making full-blown orchestral arrangements including the performance. It’s a 60-piece orchestra, 20-voice choir.

    Did you play Zelda growing up?
    Absolutely. I played Ocarina of Time a lot. I played Majora’s Mask. I’ve been playing a lot more recently — the Link Between Worlds, Tri Force Heroes, some of the newer games. Skyward Sword, obviously I have a deep affection for that because I actually worked on the CD that accompanied the release. That’s a milestone for my career that I’m very proud of. I love Skyward Sword.

    What is the multimedia experience? Is it in-game footage or something else?
    It’s basically all the music with visuals from the games, just blown up on the big screen. It’s essentially a retelling of the Legend of Zelda through the 30 years, using the music and the visuals to tell the story. We have updated visuals of all the current releases in HD which was just released this month. It’s pretty amazing.

    What’s the appeal to nongamers or people who have never played Zelda?
    A lot of appeal is that the music stands on its own. You don’t need the game. It’s breathtaking, it’s beautiful, it’s cinematic. If you’re into illustration or you’re into media or you’re into film — this is just a perfect example of how far technology has come.

    The Legend of Zelda: Master Quest, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $55 to $150 via arshtcenter.org.

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