The synchronicity displayed by the accoutrements of various instruments is one reason orchestras play underneath bright lights. The sight of multiple rows of violin bows marching in tandem conjures a majestic unity not unlike a parade. It’s an integral part of the symphonic experience.
From my front row seat, I observed a quagmire of bows in various directions instead. I attributed the divergence to first and second violin parts but not only was the placement of the second violins off, there was no coordination between the two that I could notice. It wasn’t until part way through the concert that Ms. Vedder, conductor, revealed that my guess of second violins were in fact viola players.
It became apparent that the Symphonic Anime Orchestra lacks the size to reach full potential in its presentation. The absence of dress code translated to cosplay attire for most members which is fitting but again severs the presentation of a cohesive whole. All of this could be forgiven with an overwhelming performance. Sadly, this was not the case.
Overall sound left one wanting. The strings felt timid at times. That said, the first violinist played beautifully. Even with her back on the chair, she moved gracefully to the music, her right wrist turning on the downstroke while the other adds vibrato, eliciting full, rich sounds. Lake Street Dive kindled my interest in the upright bass so I appreciated the highlight here. Woodwinds remained fairly consistent. I did notice that some of the section took turns playing different flutes. While hidden, the brass section made their presence known. Percussion was my favorite. Precise and proud, each beat made my heart thump. Each section was competent but the amalgam did not always feel whole. Something was off but I couldn’t exactly place my finger on it.
Most of the audience were undeterred by the sub par performance. Enthusiastic cheers were prevalent throughout especially upon introduction of a favored piece such as Final Fantasy or Madoka. On one occasion, only a handful of girls cheered at the onset of a song. Their energetic shrieks pierced through the otherwise silent crowd. It was a touching moment. The highlight for me was Totoro. It’s a rather catchy melody and the quartet captured the charm brilliantly to transport me into the anime. My head and body swayed in the chair.
A gentleman two seats to my right did make a departure. Even if the music is mediocre, it’s still very rude to leave during a song. I must confess that the orchestra established a symphonic atmosphere that led me feeling obtuse in taking photos. I had wanted to take a shot of the SAO letters on the podium but felt it would be inappropriate to leave my seat. Clearly the music isn’t that terrible.
Then I did some research for this article.
The SAO is composed of volunteers and it adheres to a philosophy of inclusion. As such, everyone is welcome to apply. This is even true for those lacking skills. It gets better. The members of the orchestra do not meet each other until the con! Ms. Vedder sends sheet music electronically for each participant to practice at home in advance. The first rehearsal happens on the Friday of the con. Read that again. There are two subsequent rehearsals over the weekend until show time on Sunday.
Consider my socks and underwear rocked and rolled off.
Boy am I glad I stood to give an ovation. It’s just something I do out of habit at symphonies but in context, the SAO is incredibly deserving of it. The orchestra bestowed a flower to their fearless conductor at the conclusion. I can’t wait until my next SAO concert so I may again witness the making of the impossible possible.
More photos here.
Trigun – Rem’s theme and opening credits (orchestra)
League of Legends (orchestra)
Connect from Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica (orchestra)
Tonari no Totoro (quartet)
Fruits Basket (quartet)
Cha-La from Dragon Ball Z (orchestra)
Sburban Jungle from Homestuck (orchestra)
Vivi’s Theme (quartet)
Howl’s Moving Castle (strings and piano)
Full Metal Panic Medley (orchestra)
Overture to Kingdom Hearts (orchestra)