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Sonic Symphony 2023: The Opening Night

It’s been a few years since the Sonic Adventure Music Experience and a lot has happened since then. The next major event that Sega did was during The Event of 2020-2021, namely the Sonic 30th Anniversary Symphony in June 2021. While this was incredible to see, it was a shame that due to the nature of the world at that time, the orchestra had to play to no in-person audience.

2 years on from then, and a slightly remixed Sonic Symphony has finally begun, and embarked on a world tour to hundreds of people per venue. Myself and a dozen or so other members of Sonic Retro were present at the opening night at the Barbican in London, and what a night it was.

I pulled into Paddington station early in the morning of the 16th and following a quick change of route from my intended path (someone had triggered a fire alarm at Bond Street’s Elizabeth Line station, making it unusable and forcing me onto the longer, hotter, and not-air-conditioned Bakerloo Line instead), I arrived at Retro’s traditional Barcade meetup spot of Henry’s Cafe Bar in Piccadilly. One by one the group grew, catching up on things since our last meetup in late 2022, and excitedly talking about the evening ahead.

Eventually we left the cafe, and following a quick stop at Forbidden Planet for a couple of the group to buy some Pokémon card packs for a card draw match they had planned – drinks were riding on it, it was important! – we split up again into smaller groups to check into our hotels and get into classier attire for the theatre. I could go on about the unintentional puzzles and weirdness of the “escape room” that was the hotel room myself and two other Retroites checked into (which was still throwing things at us right up to the moment we checked out the next day), but that’s not what you’re here for, is it dear reader? Instead, we reconvened at the Jugged Hare near to the Barbican, where Dreadknux had organised a pre-show meetup. The Retro group grew still more here, from both a couple of faces who’d never been to an in-person meet before, to some long-time friends – the first Sonic community meetup I did was at PlayStation Experience way back in 2003, so this event marked an astonishing 20 years since then.

The very first performance of the Symphony was in full swing by this point, of course. As we all know by now, the original 8pm showing proved so staggeringly popular with bookings that a second show was put on before hand to accommodate the numbers. While some cheeky glances at Twitter of the 3:30pm performance were I’m sure done by most people going to the later showing, all it did was fuel the excitement; and by 7pm, it was time to go and we left the pub, walked the couple of hundred metres down the road to the theatre entrance, and walked inside.

It was obvious even to the most casual onlooker that something different to the usual kind of event a place like this would be putting on, between the large crowds wearing Sonic the Hedgehog gear of all kinds (from pin badges to Chao hats and everything in between), to the hedgehog himself walking around! We got our drinks, headed to our seats, and waited for the show to begin, with a counter ticking down second by second, until finally the moment arrived as the audience counted aloud from 10 seconds to zero.

The show started with the orchestra playing the Sonic 1 Medley from the 2019 Symphony, which was lovely to hear live for the first time (and a joy to hear good-natured laughs from the crowd during the Sonic death montage in Labyrinth Zone). Any thoughts that this show would just be a straightforward live retread of that performance were quickly quashed with the very next item however, an all-new Sonic CD Medley that an audible gasp came up from the audience on starting. From there we heard the Sonic 2 Medley and Game Gear Medley (again from the 2019 show), before another new item – an extended version of Sky Sanctuary, featuring footage from both Sonic & Knuckles and Sonic Generations, as well as Sonic Frontiers. A performance of the Sonic Mania Medley – which I especially enjoyed, the Titanic Monarch section of this track being one of my favourite pieces from the original show and was a pleasure to hear performed live – rounded out the Classic section of the show.

Next, we entered the Adventure era with a performance of the orchestral version of Believe in Myself, leading into a new orchestral version of It Doesn’t Matter. Next up was an extended Chao Medley. While this began with the same theme used during the interval during the 2019 symphony, it quickly became obvious that this was something new as a couple of other Chao themes revealed themselves, along with another laugh from the audience as Robotnik trundled down to the Chao Kindergarten holding one of the creatures. From there, we got another all-new surprise: Rooftop Run from Sonic Unleashed, with a Sonic Generations twist packed into the tune as well. Sonic Colours then got some representation with a performance of Aquarium Park and Planet Wisp, before the first half of the show rounded up with a medley of themes from Sonic Frontiers, a game that obviously didn’t exist at the time of the 30th anniversary show.

The interval arrived to thunderous applause, and we all filed out to get some more drinks, compare notes on what we thought of the show so far, and speculate on what we might see in the second half of the performance. The 20 minute countdown timer seemed to tick away very fast, and we settled back down into our seats for a somewhat different second half to the first – something immediately obvious as the time ticked down a second time to zero (the audience again joining in for the last few seconds), and the stage suddenly being bathed in a sea of red light.

 

Jun Senoue walked out onto the stage to massive applause and cheering, and the orchestra, now augmented by a singer, guitars and a drum-kit, performed I Am… All of Me from Shadow the Hedgehog. This was followed up by What I’m Made Of from Sonic Heroes, Open Your Heart from Sonic Adventure, Knight of the Wind from Sonic and the Black Knight and Escape From the City from Sonic Adventure 2. The crowd sang loudly along to every song, not missing a beat. While Jun has done live shows like this before (Summer of Sonic, Sonic Boom, etc), having a full orchestra behind it all was a unique experience to see live.

At this point, Jun bid the audience farewell (for the moment, anyhow), and as he left the stage, Tomoya Ohtani came on to just as loud claps and cheers as Jun got coming on. We were treated to performances of His World from Sonic 06, Reach For The Stars: Re-Colours from Sonic Colours, Fist Bump from Sonic Forces and Endless Possibility from Sonic Unleashed.

At that point the show was over; but of course it wasn’t, it was time for the encore. With the audience now standing out of their seats, Tomoya Ohtani joined the band and orchestra for one last song of Break Through It All from Sonic Frontiers before bidding farewell to the London audience and heading off stage, but there was still one more surprise left in store. Jun Senoue came back on stage, and while we were expecting this for Live and Learn – so far, conspicuous for its absence – what we didn’t expect was that wasn’t what was played. Instead, we were treated to a live performance of the opening theme from Sonic Superstars, a game not due out for about another month and a song that had never been heard by the public before the day of the performance.

The lights went down one more time, but there was still one thing missing. To chants of “Live and Learn!” from the audience, the stage started up one last time to perform a live version of the song that has to be in any performance of Sonic vocal songs. Joined by several hundred scream-singing Sonic fans, the orchestra and band performed the main theme song from Sonic Adventure 2 with gusto, a triumphant high note on what had been an outstanding performance.

The lights came up and following a long standing ovation, the performers headed off stage for a well-deserved rest and the audience filed out of the venue, with most of the Retro group heading to a nearby NQ64 for drinks and animated discussion of the show.

Other highlights for me of the show in no particular order:

  • The conductor (Jose Delgado) asking the audience how old they were when they’d started playing their first Sonic game, and remarking “I’m going to have to have a word with your parents” when there were still people cheering for having been playing as young as three years old.
  • The drowning countdown timer – and audience reaction – in the Chemical Plant section of the Sonic 2 Medley.
  • Personal reactions from one or two Retroites sitting near me during particular songs – the Game Gear and Chao Medleys spring to mind!
  • The crowd cheering on Silver the Hedgehog being kicked in the head by Shadow during His World. We knew it was coming, and we weren’t disappointed.

On behalf of Sonic Retro and all of those that attended the Sonic Symphony in London, thank you so much to Shota Nakama, Jose Delgado, Dave Vives, Derek Dupuis, Louis Ochoa, Blaize Collard, and the National Symphony Orchestra of Great Britain; for an incredible show and a memorable evening that no-one who was there will ever forget.

Additional special thanks go out to all the Retroites & friends who enjoyed the evening with me: Aerosol, CalamityJames, Cinossu, D.A Garden, Ducktanian, FlickySixx, girlofyourdreamcast, JenHedgehog, Mihael, Narstyle, Neowl, NikTheGreek, Orengefox, Redhotsonic, Shaddix Croft, Stiv, and MrVestek. Several of them took the photos I used in this article!

 

The final setlist from London, in full:

Sonic 1 Medley
Sonic CD Medley
Sonic 2 Medley
Sonic GG Medley
Sky Sanctuary
Sonic Mania Medley
Believe in Myself ~ It Doesn’t Matter
Chao Medley
Rooftop Run
Aquarium Park ~ Planet Wisp
Sonic Frontiers Medley

–Interval–

(Jun Senoue arrives)
I Am… All of Me
What I’m Made Of
Open Your Heart
Knight of the Wind
Escape From the City
(Jun Senoue leaves, Tomoya Ohtani arrives)
His World
Reach For The Stars: Re-Colours
Fist Bump
Endless Possibility

–Encore–
Break Through It All
(Tomoya Ohtani leaves, Jun Senoue returns)
Sonic Superstars Opening Theme
Live and Learn


Second Opinion: Aerosol

I’ve been to a concert hall. I dressed for the occasion in said concert hall; in a suit, tie and jacket, don’t you know. I am cultured now, you see.

And as a cultured, distinguished gentleman, I’m no longer prone to hyperbolic, superlative-laden descriptions.

Therefore the following, being the result of several hours of auditory digestion and rumination, will have to be sufficient in conveying the course of the evening’s events.

It was adequate. Most adequate.

Bugger that it was bloody awesome!!!

Watching the countdown for the show starting, among hundreds of like-minded fans from all kinds of walks of life; from all kinds of generations was something visceral. It was moving and palpable in a way I could taste. I wish you could’ve been there!

The show roared to life before a single note was played as the orchestra walked out of the stage and, without skipping a beat, broke into a wonderfully rendered procession of classic Sonic game medleys. Separated by dead air only long enough to collect yourself and gather some air into your lungs again, we had Sonic 1, Sonic 2, Sonic CD and (curiously) a Sky Sanctuary medley to pull at those heartstrings.

And pull at those heartstrings they did. I’ve gotta tell you folks, you haven’t heard Sonic music like I heard it that night. Even if you’ve listened to recorded orchestrated renditions of Sonic songs before. A live orchestra projects an overwhelming sense of power and majesty and feeling that to the tune of music that I’ve been listening to from before I learned to use a toilet by myself was something else.

And so the Sky Sanctuary medley ended. The conductor said some stuff I don’t remember (you’re a top bloke mate but you did too good a job, didn’t listen to a word you said!), there was an intermission. And I needed a breather. As I waited in line for my pint of hoppy water…they of course decided to start Act 2.

I’d seen Jun Senoue before, way back at Sonic Adventure Music Experience. I was much closer to him then, too. But watching him rip the chords out of the guitar for I Am…All of Me made me feel like I was right in front of him again. I mean I wasn’t, I was up in the stands somewhere near the center. But the dude can perform.

And perform he did, along with the rest of the band on stage. We even got Ohtani up there! It was my teenage years coming back to punch me in the face yet again, and I was here for it. Not that they left out the youngers…I found myself belting out His World and Fist Bump even though I was sure I hated these songs. Oh well!

The whole thing was such a blast. It was so good that I completely forgot about the merchandise situation. And even after being reminded… I still held the memory of the concert so high in value that if I never got a shirt? I probably wouldn’t be that bothered. Unless someone else I knew that was there turned up for a drink-up with a shirt on one day. Hmm.

Anyway, I’ve already said way more than I meant to. Sonic Symphony is just a triumph. A proper, resounding, unrelenting, emotionally engaging, and voice-ruining triumph.

Bring lozenges maybe.

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2 Comments

  • Reply

    I love the Game Gear medley segment so much.

  • Reply

    Video https://youtu.be/UGTlBHNvjsU

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