Castlevania: The Concert Interview: Introduction from the Creators (February 2010)
At 7 PM on February 19, Castlevania: The Concert will premiere at the Stockholm Concert Hall (Stockholm Konserthuset) in Sweden. The first-ever concert dedicated to Castlevania, the two hour concert will feature live performances of series' favourites by orchestra, rock band, chorus, and soloists. The profits for this 'by fans, for fans' event will be donated to the Haiti earthquake appeal.
In this interview, we talk in detail with concert creator David Westerlund about what to expect from the selections, arrangements, performances, and other features for the event. We also introduce orchestrator Ossian Tove, organist Erik Eklund, and visual director Anton Trochez, who all have a range of key roles in the event.
Interview Subject: David Westerlund, Ossian Tove, Erik Eklund, Anton Trochez
Interviewer: Chris Greening
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening, David Westerlund
Chris: David Westerlund, many thanks for speaking to us today. First of all, could you introduce Castlevania: The Concert for those who are not aware of the concert. Could you summarise what we should we expect from this special evening?
David Westerlund: Everything! If you're a fan of the soundtracks, especially the older ones, you are going to love it, and if you're totally new to the music, it's still in many cases catchy enough to get you hooked even during the first listen. With styles ranging from Baroque and Romantic to Heavy Metal and Latin just to name a few, everyone can find something to enjoy. That's probably why so many people like it.
Chris: David, what first attracted you to the Castlevania series in the first place?
David Westerlund: I've been a long-time fan of the Castlevania series since the first NES intalment. What attracted me to the first game was the challenge and the music, which are the keywords for this entire project. In many cases, the music from the concert is as difficult to play as the earlier games!
Chris: Despite the popularity of the Castlevania series, Castlevania: The Concert is the first concert dedicated to the series. What inspired you to change this?
David Westerlund: As with many other fans, I have been waiting for a Castlevania concert for a long time, but it never seemed to come. I think the reason is that there is no sheet music available, and no one felt like investing the time and energy to write orchestra arrangements for all the music. So we did it ourselves! Because we feel that this music is worth the effort. I mean, many of the original versions sound so good already, but imagine hearing them live with real instruments! There is just no comparison, and I know I can never go back to listening to the soundtracks after hearing the music like this...
Chris: Of course, many fans are curious about the set listings for the event. What was the process in deciding what program to produce? Will you cover a wide range of Castlevania titles or will you mainly focus on fan favourites like Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night?
David Westerlund: I was of course already familiar with most of the music from the series, but even so, I actually went through EVERY soundtrack again piece by piece before putting together the first set-list, so we wouldn't risk leaving out something. However I personally think that SCIV and SOTN have the best soundtracks in the series, so that's where our focus will lie. Since the series has so many great tracks, you have to draw the line somwehere, or the concert would be six hours long! It's still quite long as it is — at least two hours.
Chris: The Stockholm Youth Symphony Orchestra will perform the concert. What inspired the choice of ensemble and what will they bring to the music? Are many of the members familiar with the games and original music?
David Westerlund: We are all relatively young in this project, and most of us are fans who grew up with these games and the videogame culture in general, so it feels like it's our own history we're celebrating. My first choice of musicians were young people who understand what we are trying to accomplish. And in my experience, no one works as hard as youths; certainly the pace and the workload we have taken on would break anyone who was not burning with true passion for this music!
Chris: Ossian Tove has confirmed that he is handling most of the orchestrations for the concert. Ossian, how did you overcome the challenges of presenting the original scores for orchestra and adapting them in four-part writing? What were your primary influences when orchestrating for the concert?
Ossian Tove: It was certainly challenging to adapt the series' music for orchestra and four-part writing. However, as I have previously studied orchestra arrangements for several years at college, I am very familiar with the different styles of different composers and periods relevant for the series.
Just as the Castlevania music jumps between the Baroque and Romantic periods for instance, so do our arrangements. But personally, my primary influence when it comes to arrangements is Tchaikovsky, who was a real master of the art.
Chris: As well as the orchestrations, we're curious about what else to expect from the arrangements of Castlevania: The Concert. Is it likely to be a diverse concert? Are there any particularly experimental arrangements?
David Westerlund: As obvious fans of the original versions, we have tried to stay as true as possible to the source material whenever possible. In other words, we are not making unneccessary changes to the music. However, we did have to create totally new arrangements for some of the earlier themes (the blip-blop ones), as well as make several improvements to the later ones. Now it is a perfect blend of old meets new.
Chris: You've announced that, in addition to the orchestra, the concert will feature rock band, chorus, organ, and piano performances. What do you think these elements represent for the series and what will they offer to the concert? Will these elements be hybridised together during the concert or will the different soloists and ensembles mainly perform separately?
David Westerlund: Most previous video game concerts have been performed with orchestra only, which is fine for some music, but for certain games you NEED drums and electric bass to get that "drive", you know? Certainly a Castlevania concert would be pretty lame if every arrangement was a slow string suite for the orchestra. We will be mixing so many styles and ensembles — no two arrangements sound the same. The tempo, the instruments, everything is utilized in their proper place;; in other words, everyone is not playing together at the same time. The tracks that rock are really going to rock, and the ones that sound like classical pieces will sound better than ever! Especially expect a new level of emotion in the music!
Chris: Erik Eklund is handling the numerous organ performances. Erik, how did you become involved in the concert and what do you hope to bring to the concert as the organist?
Erik Eklund: I haven't played so many of the games actually, but I liked the music right away when I heard it. I especially like the fact that the church organ is so heavily featured, as it can sometimes be perceived as sort of an old and outdated intrument. This music really plays well with a real organ, as you will hear on February 19!
Chris: David, you will serve as both the pianist and producer for Castlevania: The Concert. Could you tell us more about your background as a pianist, composer, and lecturer?
David Westerlund: I started playing piano at the age of two and continued my musical experiences from there. I later got a music teacher's degree at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm to become a lecturer. Meanwhile, I've been supporting myself as a musician and composer for many years. Of my own works, my most significant creations are probably the rock-musicals "Three is a Crowd" and "Love Works"; this is a format I really like to work with, as it mixes music with acting and scenery, which is a strength I also use when creating these videogame performances. I want it to be more than a concert, I want it to be a total experience, where the visuals and the sounds complete each other. Like creating a temporary world for an evening, in this case Dracula's Castle.
Chris: Castlevania: The Concert is not your first concert production. In 2009, you also produced Final Fantasy Piano & Vocal Collections Live on Tour. Could you detail this production further? I'd especially be interested in learning about the concept of the concert series, the new and reused arrangements, and the choice of solo performers.
David Westerlund: It all started with a concert I arranged at the Royal College of Music, where I and a bunch of other students from different musical backgrounds created new arrangements of Final Fantasy themes. The concert that became so popular that we decided to do a tour with the same concept. What made this unique is not only that the shows were made by fans for fans, but the opportunity we have to pick out and arrange somewhat obscure fan-favorites — something that only true fans of the games can do. Also, we do small re-tellings of key moments in the games through the music, again making it more than an "ordinary" concert.
Chris: In addition to your concerts, Sweden seems to be something for a hub for game music, with performances of PLAY!, Distant Worlds, Sinfonia Drammatica, Joystick, Settings, and more. What do you make of this phenomenon and why is game music so popular in Stockholm? Have you personally attended any of the other concerts to occur in the city?
David Westerlund: Why Sweden I have no idea, but I have attended almost all of the concerts, at first as a fan, and later as a more critical observer. The reason I started with our projects is because I felt like the concept was starting to get stale, with some pieces being played to death and some arrangements and song selections seeming quite strange to me, both as a fan and musician. Especially Castlevania, the music that I love so much, is too important for me to just stand by and wait for someone else to do a concert that will likely be a more sloppy job than if I did it myself. I knew I would work day and night for as long as it took to get it perfect, and the people around me in this project feel the same way. We have a resposibility to the fans with this world premiere and we know it. It is the driving force of the true fans.
Chris: A further highlight of the evening will be a special guest appearance from Michiru Yamane. What inspired the decision to invite her to the concert? Are there any other guests for the evening?
David Westerlund: Contacting Yamane-san was one of the very first steps I took when preparing for this project. Knowing that she was a great pianist, I asked if she wanted to play on some pieces right from the start instead of just listening which is the norm, and she said yes right away.
I can reveal she even offered to write a new arrangement of a classic theme from Symphony of the Night for this concert, so that will be another premiere within the premiere!
As for other guests, well you never know... There are a lot of surprises in store during the evening.
Chris: There will also be a visual component in the concert. Anton Trochez, would you discuss how you will transform the concert hall into Dracula's Castle for the event? Also, will there be any video projections during the concerts?
Anton Trochez: Yes, there will be a major visual component of the concert. However, we are now approaching the "surprise" areas of the concert, which we prefer to keep secret until people enter the concert all. But you can be sure that this is no ordinary concert, so don't expect it to look or sound like the previous ones in Stockholm. Think armors. Think chandeliers. Think vampires...
Chris: You have also announced that some of the profits from Castlevania: The Concert will be donated to support the victims of the Haiti earthquake. Could you elaborate on this charity aspect to the concert?
David Westerlund: I think that anyone who is in a position to help the less fortunate should do so, and that's why we've decided to give the surplus of this concert to support children in need in Haiti.
Chris: Thank you for your time today, David, Ossian, Erik, and Anton. We wish you the best of luck with Castlevania: The Concert. Are there any final words you'd each like to say about the concert and to prospective attendees?
David Westerlund: I'm sorry we're only doing this in Sweden right now! I don't expect fans to fly here from other countries just for the concert. However, I know that many of you are, and I really appreciate it and think that it will be worth it if you're true fans, which I'm sure you are if you're considering attending!
It is a historical event in many ways — the world premiere of Castlevania: The Concert — and the bragging rights for attending this event are of course great. This is really the kind of show that must be experienced in person, so even if we released some video later on, the magic and the excitement just wouldn't be the same. I think it's impossible to capture a live performance on CD or DVD, and it must be lived in the moment for the full experience.
There will be many surprises in the evening, but I can't tell you them since otherwise it'll spoil them. But don't worry, people are going to talk about the big ones afterwards for sure. See you there at the Stockholm Concert Hall on the evening of February 19th!
Many thanks to David Westerlund, Ossian Tove, Erik Eklund, and Anton Trochez for inspiring Castlevania: The Concert and talking to us today. Find out more about the concert at the official site and buy tickets online here.