A Night with Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions

When one thinks of an orchestra and classical music, not much fun comes to mind. Just a lot of rich old people sitting around in their tuxedos listening to violins. Well, let me tell you, it ain’t like that at all when it’s mixed with Pokémon. I’ve written about concerts before and I’ve even talked about classical music involving Pokémon. But when it comes to actually watching a live performance, it’s something purely magical that you just need to experience firsthand. I was lucky enough to attend Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions at the Mann Center in Philadelphia. Conductor Susie Seiter led the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia through each generation of Pokémon games. The audience was in for a very exciting night, more than we could have imagined.

As I arrived at the Mann, I could already see who the real fans were. Many Pokémaniacs in attendance were dressed to nine(tale)s in cosplay, gijinka and some wore themed shirts and carried plushies. No matter what they wore, you knew they were there for Pokémon. There was music playing as attendees found their seats and visited the merchandise tables. The songs were the original versions of some of Pokémon’s iconic tracks, such as Team Rocket’s HQ and the classic Pokémon Center music. Even Philadelphia Pokémon was there to promote their upcoming regional tournament for the video game and trading cards taking place October 4 and 5. People were cheering and yelling as I turned the corner to see a giant screen. On it was a little game of Who’s That Pokémon. Many chanted for Mudkip on each one (who I heard they like). Before even finding my seat, I looked around and saw that very familiar glow of a DS in every row. Friends and complete strangers were battling and trading with each other. Fans knew it would be a special night before the show even started, because of how the games brought them all together.

pokemon y title

The lights dimmed and Susie Seiter walked and waved to the crowd. The show began with a slideshow of each game’s title screens in chronological order. Each slide came with its actual version’s music showing how far it’s come since the first game. It’s the perfect precursor of what’s to come. We started where all Pokémon journeys begin, in Pallet Town. On-screen was a little bit of gameplay so the music has a story to follow. We saw Professor Oak, Red, Red’s mom and even Blue in the beginning. A beautiful clarinet solo followed Red into tall grass and even obtaining his first Pokémon, Charmander as the audience went wild. But, the next piece was the moment when the show officially began. After the short, melodies of Pallet Town came the intensity of Team Rocket’s HQ. The music went from mellow to dramatic in a heartbeat as Red explored the headquarters of Kanto’s evil gang. We found out how much emotion can be felt just by listening to the talented musicians. Red went through the Rocket’s HQ battling a few Grunts here and there. During the battle scenes – and this is what makes it a show and not just a concert – there were animations of each attack. A Thunderbolt from Pikachu actually streaked across the screen and a Surf attack splashed across it. The ending of Red and Blue came with a sequence of Red on his way to becoming the Champion. It showed Red battling Blue in Oak’s lab, then continued with a run through each Pokémon Gym. Red defeated the Elite 4 and finally, Blue again to become the new Pokémon Champion. The first generation act gave evoked a strong nostalgia, especially for those of us who’ve played since the 90’s. We became champions right alongside Red.

Gold and Silver didn’t start like the last gen, instead we were dropped right in the middle of the story. The Legendary Raikou, Entei and Suicune were prominent in the game and most important in Ecruteak City. Ethan, the playable character in the game, went around town talking to some of the citizens and challenged Morty to a battle. We met Eusine and learned more about the various towers across Johto. Then, a final encounter with Suicune lead to its capture. This entire sequence was very mellow and easygoing after all the action that occurred in Red and Blue. The gen II finale didn’t go through each gym (that would have been 16 which is too much). Instead, we started at the end inside the Dragon’s Den after defeating Clair. Ethan defeated the Elite 4 with ease but had one trainer left to beat. Red stood waiting for the strongest trainers atop Mt. Silver. The audience knew it was coming, they were cheering with anticipation. The orchestra built the suspense nicely and timed it perfectly with what appeared on-screen. When the battle began, it was the first time we heard that iconic music and it blasted from the stage. The battle was interesting, whomever did the playthrough knew what they were doing. In the end, despite having lower leveled Pokémon, Ethan was victorious. It was a very satisfying segment from beginning to end.

pallet town

In Hoenn we were again dropped into the middle of a storyline. This time it revolved around the three Regis, Steven Stone and eventually Kyogre. Eerie music introducds us to the Regis in their respective caverns. Then we met Steven Stone as he lead us to the Cave of Origins where Kyogre awaited. Brendan’s battle with the legend featured heavy music which was on-point with each moment in the game. The entire miniature story was told through the music. Every scene was expressed with precision. Ruby and Sapphire didn’t end there. The second part began with Team Aqua and Team Magma duking it out at the top of Mt. Chimney. The action was prominently displayed with what I would consider a very heart-filled performance. The severity of the events was only heightened by the emotions emanating from each instrument. We also saw a face-off against Wally in Victory Road before a montage and credit sequence. A sweet piano solo accompanied the appearance of secret bases, another moment that got a positive crowd reaction. Hoenn ended with Brenden entering the Hall of Fame.

Diamond and Pearl started us off in the player’s room. Dawn watched Clint (also known as Barry) as he prepared to set out on his Pokémon journey. At Lake Verity, the two met Lucas and Professor Rowan. The music was quaint, very easy-going because to match the early tone of the game. After a bit of talking, we were shown a montage of the journey around Sinnoh. Dawn surfed the ocean, rode around on Cycling Road and made footprints on the beach. Then it was back to the lakes to catch the spirits – Mesprit, Uxie and Azelf – before Team Galactic could get their hands on them. The music had an upped tempo and clashing cymbals, it felt like things were getting a bit techno-y in honor of Team Galactic. It should be noted that with each new generation came updated battle graphics to ehance the action. Instead of Surf just splashing around, it actually went back and forth just like the ocean. There didn’t seem to be much time focused on Diamond and Pearl but they did hit on some key moments.

pikachu fans

After watching all of the first four generations it was time for intermission. I took this opportunity to catch up with a few fans and get their opinion on the show. First I chatted with Susan and her son, Joe. It was their first orchestra but they were there for different reasons. Joe has been a fan of Pokémon his entire life but Susan was mainly there for the music. Even so Susan said she was able to recognize some of the Pokémon and follow the story through its music. Joe enjoyed the progression of the games. Susan mentioned it’s, “fantastic to combine classical music with video games.” It’s a meeting of two worlds. To finish, I asked Joe which Pokémon is his least favorite, he responded with Talonflame, citing, “it’s too powerful, especially with its ability.”

I also had time to talk with Philip and Xavier, two friends who’ve been fans of the game since the beginning. I asked them if they were able to recognize some of the songs being performed. They could tell what some of the songs were, which is fine – it’s hard to remember them all. Sometimes you’re more focused on playing than listening. Red and Blue brought back a lot of nostalgia but Gold and Silver hit them right in the heart. Too many fond memories came rushing back. I asked if they knew about the first concert down in Washington D.C., if they planned on attending. But they gave a valid reason: it was too far. But I wondered if they would have went for the tournament since it took place during the National Pokémon Championships. Xavier said he “doesn’t go online much because he always loses.” Also, Philip did not own a Charizard card, so what’s the use in going to the competition at all? They were a couple of generation V haters whose least favourite Pokémon were Garbodor and Vanilluxe. Pile of trash and some ice cream, but hey that’s alright, I’d take either of them if they were real.

orchestra

The orchestra returned from intermission in a clever way. Their first piece was the Pokémon Center music. It’s like we all just came back feeling refreshed. So, from there we went on to Black and White. The title sequence in the game is like its own miniature movie, and its story was filled with drama and more intertwining plotlines than any other Pokémon game. After the intro, protagonist Hilbert took a trip through the Elite 4. Battle music was soft but punctuated with deep blows from the horn section. The next portion featured the climactic battle with N himself. This seemed to gain the loudest crowd reaction of the night. The entire episode was very cinematic. There was depth, a good and bad side and enough characters to drive the segment. The classical music really added to the experience. If I was playing those areas of the game with this as the soundtrack, it would make for something unforgettable. It ended with the aptly titled, “Farewell.” This is where N realized what it takes to be not only a Pokémon Trainer but a friend. His words telling us to follow our dreams and the music accompaniment forced people into tears.

The crying didn’t end there, as the XY sequence started on a somber note. The tears fell through the entire opening of the game, with all the scenes of a Pokémon war and AZ with his Floette. A short piano solo painted a grim scene showing Floette leaving. Then the gameplay opening picked up from the beginning with Calem being awakened by Fletchling. Calem went to pick his Pokémon, Chespin. The use of 3D graphics in XY actually brought the game to a new level but adding the orchestra was like an entirely new world. The graphics and music helped me appreciate the game much more deeply. Then Professor Sycamore made an appearance receiving a huge response from the audience – even the performers smiled. The mood made a complete turnaround as we watched a gym battle montage with deep bass. Chesnaut appeared a lot – guess they really like using him. Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions came to a close with the ending credit scenes from each generation. The title says it all: this really was a journey of evolution from Red and Blue to XY. Not only did the gameplay change but the music along with it. The work from each game became more eccentric and incorporated plenty of instruments to give every generation its own identity.

But wait, there’s more! Jeron Moore, the producer of the show, to be precise. He came on stage and thanked us all for attending but knew we couldn’t leave without a couple of surprises. He told us famed Pokémon composer Junichi Masuda will actually hear how loud a crowd we were, via their own messages of course. Just mentioning his name excited the audience. Jeron then introduced Laura Intravia, who would be singing along with the next two performances. I knew right away it had to be the Pokémon anime theme song, and I was right! The Mann Center filled every corner by singing along to quite possibly the most famous cartoon theme songs of all time. It was a moment of friendship for us all to share. Laura was so in-sync with the orchestra that she herself even sounded like an instrument. It’s as if her voice was a violin. The video on-screen wasn’t the actual opening but featured clips from each season of the anime, showing Ash and Pikachu growing across each region. Then, to bring the concert to its true finale, Laura sang Kiseki, which plays during the Pokémon XY’s end credits. The lyrics were a perfect conclusion the concert. How lucky we are to have friends and family. And with love, our lives will always be beautiful. The final line of the song called for us to treasure this moment, to never forget the memories we’re making everyday. Pokémon has become more than a game -it’s now a vehicle for new memories between friends. I can tell you firsthand that it’s changed my life for the better, and being at Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions is another moment that will stay with me forever