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Interview: Legend of Zelda Symphony producer Jason Michael Paul

The Legend of Zelda symphony at the Orpheym Theater in Vancouver, B.C. (Photo by Stephen Tucker, courtesy Zelda Symphony)

Last September, Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts hosted The Legend of Zelda: The Symphony of the Goddesses, which turned the music from Nintendo’s Zelda games into a fully orchestrated performance. Reviews were positive, and the show returns this week.

Jason Michael Paul, head of Jason Michael Paul Productions, has worked on several other video game-based symphonies, including Dear Friends: Final Fantasy and PLAY! A Video Game Symphony, the latter of which featured music from Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Dragon Age and more – without the flashy light show and guitar riffs of Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live!.

Dork Shelf spoke with executive producer Paul about Symphony of the Goddesses: Second Quest, a revision of the show that also includes some clever cross-promotion of Nintendo’s upcoming Zelda games for the Wii U and 3DS.

Dork Shelf: How did the Zelda Symphony start?

Jason Michael Paul: In 2011, my company was hired to do the opening of the press event for Nintendo at E3. At that point they made some huge announcements that would involve Zelda music. There were three concerts: one in L.A., one in Tokyo and one in London. And my company would be producing them, along with an orchestral CD that would accompany the release of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

So we did the shows, and they were a huge success. With that, I pitched [Nintendo] the idea of doing the Symphony of the Goddesses tour. They were all for it, so we went ahead and we’ve been touring ever since. We finished the first season, and now there’s Second Quest.

Also, it should be known that we just announced that we have three new Canadian dates for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses: Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in October.

Eimear Noone leading the Vancouver Film Orchestra. (Photo by Stephen Tucker, courtesy Zelda Symphony)

What’s different about the Second Quest version of the symphony?

The show itself still has the four-movement Symphony of the Goddesses; that has not changed. What has changed is some of the newer pieces that we included. We re-worked the Wind Waker piece and added some Skyward Sword material. We’ve also changed some of the encores, so there’s about 40 minutes of new material, making about half of the show.

What’s it like adapting work that was originally 8-bit chiptunes?

It’s a great feeling for us. We’re tipping our hat off to Koji Kondo for his amazing work. We’re kind of fulfilling our dream, if you will, of what the music could have been like had we been able to have that kind of music during our playing experience.

I also have to say I have the opportunity to work with some wonderfully talented people who know the game so well that they can mimic the sounds, if you will, of the original games. It’s awesome. It’s a great feeling to able to do that.

Did you communicate with Nintendo when you were putting the concert together?

Of course! We worked with them very closely and everything runs through them for approval. It’s been a very wonderful collaboration. And since we’re working with a first party, we’re trying to deliver as authentic a first-party experience as anything else.

Heroes enjoy the show at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photo by Matt Le, courtesy Zelda Symphony)

You’ve worked with other concerts adapting video game material (Dear Friends: Final Fantasy and PLAY! A Video Game Symphony). What was different or similar about the Zelda Symphony?

What I’ve done with this show was that the music is fully in sync with the visuals. There are little mini-movies, if you will, that we’re performing live. The other shows were a little loose – the choreography of the music with the videos weren’t as tight as they are with this show.

Nintendo’s previewing its upcoming Zelda games – Wind Waker HD and A Link Between Worlds – at the Second Quest shows. What’s it like bringing the games to the concert?

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to be involved, from a branding perspective. It’s been nice because, in a sense, we’re working together to promote the Zelda franchise even further, and we’re also able to branch out and make it a total immersive Zelda experience.

What was your favourite Zelda game to adapt for the symphony?

The earlier games, like the gold cartridge, resonate with me from a gamer’s standpoint. But I think from a professional standpoint, the Skyward Sword release was probably my favourite, if only because I felt I could contribute to the game when we created the orchestral CD. So for me, that was a dream come true: to be doing what I do in the gaming industry and then be able to get it released with the game.

What games would you want to adapt into a show in the future?

I’m launching a new show that’s called rePLAY. It’s a reboot of PLAY! We have Journey, Portal 2 and other new titles that are going to be part of it.

It’s also more story-driven. Do you remember Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, or the hero’s journey? We’ve taken that storyline and used it to tell our hero’s journey through that same concept, but using video games to tell the story. That’s set to launch in October in Omaha, Nebraska.

Are there any Canadian stops planned for rePLAY?

We’re working on that. We’ll definitely have some stops.