I Went to Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions at the Sydney Opera House

Yep, another concert post! What a time to be alive.

I’ve lived in Australia for 17 years now, and been a tourist to these great shores before that. But last night marked the very first time I had the pleasure of entering the Sydney Opera House. My reason for doing so was not exactly standard for the venue, mind you, but it was certainly worth the wait. The long-hyped orchestral treatment of the music from the Pokémon series had finally arrived in our backyard, and the event did not disappoint.

It was a bit of a sore spot for me that I had never seen the famous Sydney Symphony Orchestra live in any capacity, not least of all because that meant I’d missed both 2011’s Distant Worlds concert (music from Final Fantasy) and 2013’s Symphony of the Goddesses (music from the Legend of Zelda series). But I was never going to miss this one, and there were very obviously hundreds of others who felt the same, because there was a real excited buzz in and around the iconic Darling Harbour venue.

Who knew it would take so long for me to visit you properly?

People were cosplaying, debating the merits of each Pokémon generation – as I did earlier this year, I might mention – and feverishly checking their 3DS StreetPass hits. I sat next to a couple who chatted with me about their Pokémon experience like we had known each other for ages – there was just something special about being inside that hall with passionate, like-minded people. And the acoustics of that hall – I know some readers will be plenty familiar with them, but wow. Every note was resounding and every round of applause was thunderous.

The excitement on the face of the surprisingly stage-shy event producer/MC Jeron Moore was contagious as he introduced each section of the evening. The man just would not stop smiling, clearly lapping up the opportunity to be at the Opera House, even though he was also heavily involved with the aforementioned Zelda music spectacular at the same venue two years ago.

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My real-life ticket, looking heaps legit.

The Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions project has already been touring for a little over a year, debuting in Washington D.C. in August last year, and from what I understand, the set list from our performance was largely the same as it has been around the world. So I’ve copy-pasted it from Wikipedia:

  1. Overture – Pokémon Main Theme
  2. Pallet Town (from Red, Blue, and Yellow)
  3. Prepare for Trouble (from Red, Blue, and Yellow)
  4. Born to be a Champion (from Red, Blue, and Yellow)
  5. Ecruteak City (from Gold, Silver, and Crystal)
  6. Songs of the Towers (from Gold, Silver, and Crystal)
  7. (from Gold, Silver, and Crystal)
  8. Ancients of Hoenn (from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald)
  9. Falling Ashes (from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald)
  10. End of the Road (from Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald)
  11. Dreams and Adventures (from Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum)
  12. Routes of Sinnoh (from Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum)
  13. The Lake Guardians (from Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum)
  14. Intermission
  15. Pokemon Center
  16. The Day I Became King (from Black and White)
  17. N-Counter (from Black and White)
  18. Farewell (from Black and White)
  19. An Eternal Prison (from X and Y)
  20. Welcome to Kalos (from X and Y)
  21. Professor Sycamore (from X and Y)
  22. Friends, Fights & Finales (from X and Y)
  23. Gotta Catch ’em All (Pokémon Anime Season 1 Theme) (Encore)
  24. KISEKI (Encore)

Any given Pokémon fan might have had his or her own grievances with such a set list, as composer/conductor Susie Seiter and her team could not possibly have fit in every amazing piece of music from such a well-regarded franchise. But for all the lack of Lavender Town/Cynthia’s Theme/Mount Pyre/Team Galactic Battle music, this was one hell of a show. Packing medleys aplenty, a commited attitude to keeping the music flow coherent and a laudably even balance between all six generations of games, it was clear as day that Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions had been put together by people who really care about the series.

After the powerful and magnificent battle medley from Gen I, which spliced the gym leader battle music and that legendary Champion theme into the standard trainer battle melody, the decision to centre Gen II’s musical representation around the story of the Tin Tower and Burned Tower was masterful. It gave the audience a chance to catch their breath and marvel at the technical display on show via a quieter movement. Likewise the decision to back up the touching end of Gen V’s N-centric epic musical narrative (which managed to sneak in that generation’s excellent Route 10 tune without feeling out-of-place) with the feel-tastic AZ origin story from X and Y – in its entirety.

I had forgotten how amazing the music to this scene was.

I was super happy to hear the otherworldly beauty of Hoenn’s Route 113 theme, here titled Falling Ashes, fully realised with orchestral majesty. The same was true of the pre-intermission closing piece, which managed to turn the already grandiose and catchy Azelf/Uxie/Mesprit battle music into an even more memorable highlight – No, seriously. It’s still stuck in my head.

Each piece of music was matched with a piece of appropriate gameplay footage from the Pokémon series on the big screen, adding tangible context and heightening the emotion of each section. This was most prominent in the fittingly choreographed visuals accompanying Gen III’s tear-jerking end credits theme, which summarised the wide appeal of those games to great effect. It also especially heightened the anticipation leading up to Gen II’s climactic battle against Red, with quick gameplay footage cuts juxtaposed with realistic cave visuals.

Not that this touch was necessary. I’m no orchestral expert – I had to lean over and ask my sister technical questions multiple times over the course of the night – but it was nonetheless crystal clear to me why the Sydney Symphony is so revered as a unit. They were on point at every step along the metaphorical journey through the sounds of Pokémon’s decades-old history. From the highly prominent early flute sections to the justifiably highlighted French horns during the Gen III phase to the violins of Gen VI’s European-inspired tunes to the surprisingly effective use of synth keyboard effects, such a fine group of talented professionals deserves a standing ovation – and they certainly got one.

You’re pretty alright I guess.

I could gush about every single piece of music that was played, analysing every twist of every arrangement and chronicling the goosebumps, the chills down my spine, the almost-tears, the sheer emotional rollercoaster that was the concert – but I won’t. I’ve already done too much Pokémon fanboying on this blog recently. I’m just so, so happy that the criminally underrated music of the Pokémon main series is finally getting the treatment it deserves. May Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions continue to expand to more locations around the world, and may this wonderful videogame franchise continue to deliver such memorable, evocative music!

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