The Little Jack Orchestra held their 14th public concert on August 19 in Yokohama, this one dedicated to Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu's SNES classic Chrono Trigger. Their Final Fantasy VI concert in 2009 remains my most memorable VGM live experience to date, and though they had tackled several themes from Chrono Trigger in the second half of their 2010 concert, this was the first time they (or any other orchestra that I'm aware of) dedicated a full concert to the fan-favorite JRPG. Needless to say it was an event I was highly anticipating, and for the large part it did not let me know.
Program 1st Half
1. A Premonition / Chrono Trigger
2. Morning Sunlight / Peaceful Days / Guardia Millenial Fair
"Guardia Millenial Fair" was one of my favorites from the Little Jack's previous partial Chrono Trigger concert and was equally enjoyable this second time around. The upbeat arrangement and performance were made even more festive by claps and shouted "Ha!"s from the orchestra members.
3. Wind Scene
This soft, atmospheric piece benefited hugely from live woodwinds and strings.
4. A Prayer To The Road That Leads / Manoria Cathedral / Battle 1 / Boss Battle
Every single battle theme in the concert - beginning with "Battle 1" and "Boss Battle" in this medley - turned out extremely well. I remember the same being the case in Little Jack's 2009 Final Fantasy VI concert. Amateur orchestra or no, they have no problem belting out high-amplitude, exhilarating battle tracks.
5. The Trial / The Hidden Truth
These are two of my favorite tracks (not to mention scenes) from the OST, and the orchestra pulled them off very nicely.
6. Underground Sewer / People Who Threw Away The Will To Live / Lavos' Theme
7. Guardia Castle / Frog's Theme / Battle with Magus
"Frog's Theme" remains one of my all-time favorite VGM themes, so my expectations are especially high for any orchestral arrangement of it. This one could have taken a bit more time developing at the beginning but otherwise was fantastic, the brass in particular having all the majestic power you would hope for, and made even more dramatic by a bit of added counterpoint. "Battle with Magus" marked another excellent battle theme rendition, and the interplay between it and Frog's Theme at the climax - though not as smooth as that in Symphonic Fantasies - made a great finale to the piece.
8. Rhythm of Wind, Sky, And Earth / Burn! Bobonga!
"Rhythm of Wind, Sky, And Earth" was played solely by a five-person percussion group, the spotlight literally put on them while the rest of the concert hall was dimmed. It made for a nice, brief change of pace from the full-orchestral majority of the concert.
9. Tyran Castle / Boss Battle 2 / Fanfare 1
All three of these high-intensity themes featured great arrangements and performances, even the brass-driven rendition of the originally electric guitar-based "Tyran Castle", the intro to which benefited greatly from the Minato Mirai Hall's pipe organ.
Program 2nd Half
10. The Brink of Time / Corridors of Time
11. Zeal Palace / Undersea Palace / Schala's Theme
12. Singing Mountain / Far Off Promise
The arrangement of "Singing Mountain" was surprisingly developed and moving, beginning with minimal instrumentation similar to the unused OST track before repeating with full orchestra.
13. Sealed Door / Wings That Cross Time
14. Black Dream / World Revolution / Last Battle
Once again the Little Jack Orchestra did a fantastic job with the battle themes, the pipe organ and brass in particular taking "World Revolution" and "Last Battle" to an entirely higher level from the OST.
15. First Festival of Stars / Epilogue / To Far Away Times
I had never really taken to this closing trio of tracks until I heard them performed by the Little Jack Orchestra at their 2010 concert. Hearing them this second time around reminded me how great the arrangements are, especially for the string section. The intro to "To Far Away Times" was the perfect poignant musical moment every video game fan imagines when dreaming about hearing a favorite OST performed by an orchestra. It gave me chills.
16. Gato's Song
The orchestra clearly had fun with their brief vocal performance of this quirky piece, swaying and clapping to the rhythm.
17. Delightful Spekkio
Before the concert this was the one favorite theme of mine that stood out as a glaring omission from the program. It was good to see they had fans like me in mind with this fun bonus piece.
18. Fanfare 2 / Bike Chase / Fanfare 1
It would have been really nice to hear the solo trumpet ending section of "Fanfare 1" (only the opening section was performed), but aside from that this was another fun bonus. They even had Bike Chase "wind down" midway through its performance to represent losing the race - before firing back up again.
19. Opening ~ Bombing Mission (Final Fantasy VII)
The only non-Chrono piece of the concert. Related speculation further below.
20. World Revolution / Schala's Theme / Chrono Cross ~Time's Scar~ (Chrono Cross) / Dreamwatch of Time (Chrono Cross)
Re-performing "World Revolution" and "Schala's Theme" felt like stretching out the program a bit, but the two Chrono Cross pieces, along with one final rendition of the Chrono Trigger main theme, made an excellent finale to the concert.
The arrangements in general did a very good job of fleshing out the OST compositions and adding outros and other minor extra bits without venturing too far from the originals. In the whole concert I only noticed one part where I felt the arrangement overreached (a brief bit in "Guardia Castle" where they interspersed the "Wind Scene" theme). There were a few parts that I thought could have done with different instrumental choices or a bit of added arrangement, but despite that I would have very little problem hearing these arrangements as-is in an official Chrono Trigger orchestral album (something no doubt a great number of people reading this would love to hear as well).
In both the first and second half of the concert the orchestra got off to a bit of a rocky start, with some missed notes and the timing being off on a few occasions. This being an amateur orchestra that only performs once or twice a year I think you could chalk that up to nerves. Fortunately after those first two or three pieces the performance steadied, and while you could still hear a botched note here and there, it was a minor drawback considering the great effect the quality arrangements and overall solid orchestral performance had on Chrono Trigger's pieces. Special mention goes to the Little Jack Orchestra's xylophonist - she had some serious rapid-fire parts to play for the battle themes, and it was a joy to watch her nail every note. (You could hear the respect from the rest of the audience as well during the ovations.)
As with Little Jack's 2009 Final Fantasy VI concert, the concert was held at the Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama. Along with the pleasant location (Minato Mirai is a favorite weekend destination even for Tokyoites), spacious modern interior, and very good acoustics, another great attraction of the venue is its massive pipe organ, which was a huge boon to themes like "Lavos' Theme" and "World Revolution". A drum kit and electric bass were also used in some pieces - typically the same ones where you hear them in the OST - and fortunately they mixed well with the orchestra (something that hasn't always been the case at other orchestral game concerts).
Some sparingly used ambient effects, like bird calls and door knocks before "Morning Sunlight", and wind effects before "Singing Mountain", were nicely done. The organizers even made effective use of lighting effects on a couple occasions - darkening the lights during "Rhythm of Wind, Sky, And Earth" and flashing them chaotically at the end of "Last Battle".
Chrono Trigger has remained one of my most wished-for orchestral albums for all these years since its original release, so it's hard to overstate how great it felt to hear the Little Jack Orchestra give it the full-program orchestral performance that professional orchestras and Square Enix have thus far declined to deliver. The performance wasn't up there with professional ensembles (I could hear the difference at the JAGMO orchestral game concert the week after), but considering the still very respectable performance quality, the largely spot-on arrangements, and the excellent venue (not to mention the next-to-nothing admission price), it's hard to imagine any Chrono Trigger fan walking away from the concert anything but delighted. That's certainly how I felt.
The Little Jack Orchestra's next performance is slated for August 26, 2018, once again at Yokohama Minato Mirai Hall. Given that the only non-Chrono series piece to be performed at this last concert was from Final Fantasy VII, and that the 2018 concert teaser announcement in the program has a picture of fireworks, I think it's safe to guess which title will be featured. Any game music fans considering visiting Japan might like to adjust their travel plans accordingly.