Castlevania - The Concert
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Official site of the concert: www.castlevaniaconcert.com

  On the frigid night of February 19th 2010, three adventurers slowly crept forward. Battling the freezing cold and whistling wind, the group persisted on their journey. Snow crunched under their shoes, as they inched closer to their destination. And finally, the imposing structure came into focus. They could see it - the infamous Dracula's Castle, this time located in the heart of Sweden's capital, Stockholm. This night, the vampire's lair took the shape of the local philharmonic. At one with the hostile weather, the building glistened in the moonlight, arousing fear in all those who laid eyes on it. The three vampire slayers glanced around, in a moment of hesitation – only to realize they were not alone. Other brave souls clustered in front of the Castle, ready to face the danger hiding within. This growing number of travelers bolstered their courage, so when the front door opened, the group strode into the big hall…


Konserthuset
  The Philharmonic's interior was beautiful, perhaps deceptively so. Surrounded by such opulence, our heroes almost forgot the danger of their mission. However, the mysterious noises, constantly coming from many directions, reminded them to stay vigilant. A few moments later, the sounds grew even more intense. Fragments of familiar melodies now wafted through the building, pouring hope into their hearts. The group discerned the source – this music was coming from the concert hall, situated upstairs. However, the stairs, located on both sides of the hall, were sealed with a strange aura. The travelers took this moment to regroup, and prepare for what was yet to come.

  Some fortunate individuals, using their exploration sense, dexterity skills, and funds in their purses, had acquired mysterious rare books next to the hall entrance. These “concert programs” proclaimed unusual events, set to take place that fateful night. Thanks to these curious tomes, rookie vampire slayers could get acquainted with the history of such famous characters as Simon Belmont, Alucard, or Count Dracula himself! Those materials were of extremely high quality, both in content and preparation.

  When the magical barriers dropped, the gathered crowd immediately entered the concert hall. The vast room, featuring two levels of balconies and one of the biggest pipe organs in Scandinavia placed in the center, made a tremendous impression. The decorations – a big chandelier above the stage, white curtains under the ceiling, and skeletons and candlesticks in the choir area – were sparse and symbolic. This was very fitting for the occasion. From time to time, strange yells and screams, along with wind noises, emanated from the hall's speakers. Properly enmeshed in this dark mood, daredevils from all over the world took their seats and waited…

"Welcome my friends"

  At 7 p.m, the musicians from the Youth Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra took the stage, while the rock band set up their equipment on the left side. A few moments later, Glenn Mossop, the orchestra conductor, gave a sign to the players. With the slow and dark Introduction theme from Legacy of Darkness booming through the hall, the atmosphere further intensified. Far above, a man appeared dressed in leather armor and a cloak, holding a whip in his hand. It was Erik Eklund – concert producer and organist, in whom, on that night, the spirit of Simon Belmont had awakened! He took his seat in front of the pipe organ keyboard, ready to demonstrate the power of that instrument.

  Then suddenly, the whole orchestra froze. On stage entered two hooded characters: Dark Monk and Death. They pushed a big wooden coffin, and after its opening, they kneeled down with respect. They then resurrected Count Dracula in front of the audience! David Westerlund played the role of the famous vampire. He exited the coffin, and looked around with a sense of superiority. The Count then made his way to the rock band, where he sat on his throne – in front of the electronic keyboards. With a haughty hand gesture, he allowed the orchestra conductor to continue the performance, and we were treated to the Dracula's Castle song.


  When the song ended, we were all welcomed by David. The orchestra then performed Moonlight Nocturne and Theme of Simon Belmont, pieces that evoked the feeling that we were surrounded by the walls of the real, famous Dracula Castle. Knowing that this was just the beginning of our musical journey through Castlevania series, we pleasantly listened to Prayer, performed by two female soloists that stood high in the counter (pipe organ) area. Now, with the divine force on our side, we could move forward with the notes of Lost Painting, from Symphony of the Night. When the eyes of our imagination were exploring Dracula Castle's corridors, the orchestra put us in the mood of Super Castlevania IV, by playing Entrance Hall and Chandeliers. The latter piece featured a great orchestra-supported performance on the piano by Asuka Nakamura, an invited guest from Japan.


  The next stop in the musical journey was quite surprising for most concert attendees. Instead of offering one of the more famous tracks from the series, David Westerlund implored us to explore a few songs from the often-forgotten, but very well-made Belmont's Revenge soundtrack. Before performing New Messiah and Praying Hands, David warned us that his electronic piano is cursed… by the 8 bit era curse! This livened up oldschool fans, as they had traveled to Stockholm precisely to experience this resurrection of early Castlevania melodies. They definitely were not disappointed, because David put a lot of his fanboy heart in performing these arrangements.

  After these songs, we made our way to The Sinking Old Sanctuary, a tune filled with the patient and gentle melodies of violins. This theme was a prelude to one of the best arrangements of the evening, Calling from Heaven. Maria Eklund and her outstanding violin performance, in duo with the first fiddler of Youth Stockholm Symphony Orchestra, was what made the piece special. Later, at a meet & greet session right after the concert, she received a lot of praise from concertgoers. It's too bad that it was the only Castlevania piece arranged for 2 violins as primary instruments, because it worked really well.

  The announcement that the next arrangement - Wood Carving Partita – would be performed by Michiru Yamane excited the fans even more. Interestingly, a harpsichord had been delivered to the Konserthuset one day earlier, just for this event. The instrument was so sensitive that it had to "rest" an entire night to recover from the low temperature it sustained during its transport. Yamane-san, welcomed with standing ovations, showcased her talents. Her perfect playing, combined with the Renaissance sounds of the harpsichord, reminded us of our journeys through the enormous castle library in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

  The last part of Act 1 was like a time machine – experienced gamers could momentarily feel about 20 years younger. The final arrangement of the first act included main themes from every part of the Castlevania trilogy from NES - Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears and Beginning. The orchestra, supported by lights, rock band, electric piano (which produced synthetic sounds similar to that of the Nintendo sound system) and huge pipe organs, created a very dynamic spectacle – especially breathtaking for oldschool fans. And the evening was only halfway over…


"I was called here by humans..."

  After a 20 minute break, we were returned to the dreary, dark mood of Dracula's Castle through the Introduction, from the first Castlevania for Nintendo 64. At that moment, many audience members could definitely picture Malus playing his violin. The music then transformed into the snappy Opposing Bloodlines from Rondo of Blood; a transition that prepared us well for ACT 2 of the concert. Michiru Yamane, once again, appeared on stage - a pleasant surprise. For this second performance, she had not only changed her clothes, but her instrument as well. After she was seated in front of the grand piano in her purple dress, she presented us with Waltz of the Pearls. It's worth noting that this arrangement revealed the newly-composed full version of this song, which had never been performed live before.

  After this climatic part of the programme, the musicians quickened the tempo by performing the theme that originally accompanied gamers during the exploration of Clocktower in Aria of Sorrow. This soon transitioned into Wicked Child, Kinuyo Yamashita's piece from the very first Castlevania title. The ending of this very fast and compelling arrangement was enriched by David's electronic piano playing – he played an array of fragments from other famous game series. The audience reacted with laughs and ovations each time that they realized this; that surprisingly, melodies from Mega Man and Chrono Trigger were reaching their ears. As we later learned unofficially, these short music samples were hints, telling us what to expect from David's future projects. The whole block of arrangements ended with an immensely well-known track, instantly recognizable to the fans gathered at Stockholm's Konserthuset. This song - Chocobo Theme - was greeted with noisy applause.


David's grand piano performance
  But David was just getting started. Returning to Castlevania: Belmont's Revenge, he performed Ripe Seeds and Psycho Warrior on the grand piano. The arrangement, chaotic and severe at times, was full of anxiety and darkness. However, this was softened by the more recognizable and melodic parts of those pieces. During the block of music, careful listeners could catch another wink to the oldschool audience - in the most chaotic moment, David started to play a few recognizable notes ripped from… Super Mario Bros. This part of the show ended with the melody that gamers hear after finishing the location in Belmont's Revenge – another magnificent detail.

  We continued our musical journey, moving to soaring castle towers to listen to the elegiac Requiem for the Gods. Supported by a 3 person choir, this particular arrangement showcased its true beauty. After this song, David brought us back to the ground, announcing the performance of an arrangement entirely written for pipe organs. Erik Eklund, along with a girl that helped operate the giant instrument, showed us what one of the biggest Scandinavian pipe organs could do. The medley started with two classical pieces: Chromatische Phantasie by Johann Sebastian Bach and Passepied by Claude Debussy (which appeared in Belmont's Revenge) and ended with the clock tower theme (Clockwork) from the 3rd part of the NES Castlevania. That final melody, featuring lights on the organ pipes, really appealed to our imagination – the wall of metal made a grand impression; it felt as though the instrument was about to come to life, transforming into a rhythmically working machine. Our visit to the clock tower continued with the next track - Tragic Prince from Symphony of the Night. This time, the rock band and orchestra had the chance to show off, and provided us with a dynamic, well-performed piece of music.

"What is a man?"

  We began to feel that this cursed night was slowly coming to an end. Our vampire host, with a serious look, walked vigorously through the stage, strengthening our worries. Afraid of his increasing hunger, we had no idea how to react, much less fight such a dangerous figure (but it should be noted that one daredevil from the audience wanted to sacrifice his neck, which would give us more time to escape :)). Luckily for us, the legendary Simon Belmont, still in the counter, was ready to fight. He shouted to Dracula, using words known by many Castlevania fans – "Die, monster. You don't belong in this world!". Sensing the upcoming battle, the audience reacted with loud yells, giving the dialogue of Simon and Dracula onstage even more zeal.

  And so it started – during Dance of Illusions, Dracula, most likely inspired by Darth Vader, terrorized the rock band musicians. He squeezed the neck of each player from a distance, eventually eliminating all of them. The epic song slowly faded away, and then the Count of Darkness covertly approached the orchestra conductor! There was no escape, we were surely doomed! But suddenly, Dracula covered his face with his cloak, and crouched on stage. Yet again, the morning light and the Belmont family whip had saved the world from vampires! Dark Monk and Death appeared on stage, closed their master in the coffin, and took it away. With their exit, the rule of Dracula ended. The Ending Theme from Super Castlevania IV resounded through the concert hall. The track gave us hope for a better tomorrow, as the rising sun lit up the room. Simon proudly stood in the counter - the hero had fulfilled his ancestral duty.


Castlevania - The Concert team right after
meet & greet session
  Then David walked onto the stage again, now free from Dracula's influence. He stood in front of the microphone, but it took some time before the cheering audience allowed him to say a word. Following the speech, he received standing ovations and flowers. We were saddened, as this marked the end of our magical night. But David had prepared an encore! The curtains under the ceiling unrolled, light poured onto the stage, and Michiru Yamane-san showcased her skills for the third time this evening. This time, performing together with the orchestra, she gave us the fitting and entertaining Wandering Ghosts, from Symphony of the Night. This last segment was closed with a strong finish - Beginning symbolized a new chapter of the Dracula story.

Towards the rising sun

  Enthusiastic and full of positive energy, the crowd left the concert hall. This wasn't the end for everyone, however. In the main hall, a meet & greet session took place with concert organizers and musicians, exclusively for the fans that had purchased concert programs before the show. There were countless congratulations and praise, and many programs and soundtracks were signed. As a matter of fact, Michiru Yamane was so overwhelmed with merchandise that a 'one item per person' rule was quickly instated. After the event, the people behind Castlevania – The Concert posed for photos. We all left the venue in pleasant spirits, which made the brutal Scandinavian frost seem much less hostile.

  Will Dracula come back? Well… has he ever disappointed us? :)

Concert opinions:

  Adam "Nox_A15" Dbski, Castlevania.innerworld.pl (Hardcore Castlevania fan, who started his adventure with the series from its very first part): The concert was extraordinary! Its organizers put a lot of care into preparing the proper setlist of Castlevania tracks, decorating the concert hall's interior, and creating detailed costumes to look like game's characters. Their spectacle even featured a light show. All of this was presented in a tongue-in-cheek manner, and featured a high dose of passion! David Westerlund played the MC role for the evening, and announced every arrangement in an interesting and humorous way. The arrangements themselves were first class work, and were performed perfectly. The way David built the list of tracks for the live show proved that he knows the Castlevania series well – he chose not only the most well-known pieces to be played, but dusted off underrated tracks that have held dormant potential for many years. I'm particularly saying this about the music from GameBoy's Belmont's Revenge – the soundtrack from this Castlevania title received a new glow on the live concert. Thanks to David and other Stockholm musicians – they paid a one-of-a-kind tribute to the music from a series that has more than 20 years of tradition! They took fans from all over the world on a sentimental musical journey. Thanks a lot!

  Piotr "Zell" Serafin, Innerworld.pl (A fan of classical music and of Castlevania games from the "post-Metroid" era): Most cultural events for gamers tailor to the tastes of average computer nerds - that is, people with the stereotypical programmer appearance, wearing a wrinkled shirt and hugely thick glasses. You often see this at game fairs. Fortunately, this "apocalyptic" scenario didn't come to reality at this concert, which was a really positive surprise for me. The Castlevania series is one of the oldest in the history of video games industry, and it's also one of the unquestionable classics of the platformer genre. Thus, it was nice to see that David Westerlund paid the series justice, and presented a broad history of its music - with lots of style - within the proud walls of Stockholm's Royal Philharmonic Concert Hall. Personally, I have played only the games released after Symphony of the Night, so I paid most of my attention to the scores from the newer Castlevanias. This means that the arrangements of "Wood Carving Partita", "Waltz of the Pearls", "Tragic Prince" and "Clocktower" were particularly awesome. Also, another really interesting part of the concert was the organ solo where the music of Bach and Debussy was combined with an old-school song from Castlevania III. In summary, this event was definitely worth visiting freezing Scandinavia in the middle of their prohibitively cold winter.


From the left: Adam Dbski, Piotr Serafin and Kamil R.

  Kamil R., GameMusic.net (Game music listener, who has never played any Castlevania game, but has listened to most of the series' soundtracks): It's hard to compare Castlevania – The Concert to other similar events, because it was actually the first "from fans to fans" concert organized on such a big scale. So in this category, David Westerlund and Erik Eklund's show is certainly unbeatable. Only the most devoted fans and well-educated musicians could take this challenge - to write orchestral and rock arrangements of Castlevania music - and present them in such a diverse way. Another thing I liked was how the Swedes showed some class, in contrast to the commercial game music tours, and donated part of their ticket sales to Haiti earthquake victims. Here in Stockholm, passion definitely won over profit. However, for those who've never played any Castlevania games, the theatrical scenes onstage were a rather superfluous addition. They seemed unnecessary, and were reminiscent of the spectacles featured on the Video Games Live tour. Many fans also noticed that David, who played the role of an evening MC (speaking in English, in respect to all those fans who traveled to Sweden from other countries), didn't recognize the other Castlevania music composer – Kinuyo Yamashita - before her track “Wicked Child” was performed live. On the other hand, one of the organizers' goals was to commemorate the creative activity of Michiru Yamane, basing the concert setlist almost entirely on straight arrangements of Yamane's compositions. And this goal, in my opinion, was achieved.



Review written by: Adam "Nox_A15" Dbski (Castlevania.innerworld.pl)
English translation: Kamil R. (GameMusic.net)
English correction: evilnacho (GameMusic.net)

English translation prepared by GameMusic.net

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