The Symphony of Four Worlds – 2020-10-16, Wroclaw

A Game Music Festival vol. 3 concert

The Game Music Festival is organised annually by the Game Music Foundation – a group of individuals passionate about the music of video games. As with the previous two editions, the festival’s third instalment took place in the city of Wroclaw, Poland. However, due to this year’s extraordinary circumstances, GMF 3 was planned in a hybrid format. That means that many of the scheduled events were transferred to the internet and even the two concerts were made available online, so that fans from all over the world got the chance to participate regardless of the current COVID status and travel restrictions.

The festival’s two-day format allows for a clear thematic focus, and the accompanying schedule of masterclasses, panel discussions, as well as meet and greets, is easily manageable.

Friday night’s concert “The Symphony of Four Worlds” featured music from the four games the independent American developer Supergiant Games has published so far: Bastion, Transistor, Pyre and Hades. The sound of all those games is strongly connected to Darren Korb and Ashley Lynn-Barrett, him being the composer for all four titles and her featuring prominently as a vocalist in each soundtrack’s songs. It can be assumed that both artists would have attended The Symphony of Four Worlds as guests and maybe even as performers, but the pandemic made coming to Europe impossible for them. Nevertheless, they were available for a live Q&A on Thursday night, which was a nice warm-up for the big concert the following evening.

Screen capture from the video

The Symphony of Four Worlds took place in the Narodowe Forum Muzyki (National Forum of Music) in Wroclaw. The impressive postmodern building was completed in 2015 and with its 1,800 seats, it is one of the largest and most modern music venues in Poland. In order to reduce the risk of infections, only every second seat was used and everyone in the audience had to wear a mouth and nose mask the whole time. While this might seem weird and a little unpleasant, it made for a unique concert experience as the atmosphere was exceptionally quiet without any of the disturbing coughs, hisses and whispers you often hear during usual concerts.

Robert Kurdybacha had adapted Korb’s tunes for the orchestra and he also led the Sound Factory Orchestra as the conductor. With their leisurely yet highly professional approach to music (see the brightly coloured sneakers, they all wear as part of their ‘uniform’) the young group of musicians was perfect for the occasion.

Bastion, Pyre, Hades and Transistor: The evening’s performance was divided into four suites, each dedicated to one Supergiant game. There was no intermission, and the music was only interrupted for brief introductions by the hosts Ryszard Chojnowski and Mateusz Pawlak. 

I must admit that while I was quite impressed by individual tracks during the concert, I found the music to lack some sort of connection. It seems that I missed the necessary dots to connect the pieces to a convincing whole. However, rewatching the whole thing on YouTube, I did not feel this lack of cohesion at all and I was even more impressed by the great performance that I had been lucky enough to experience live. It presented a very accessible kind of music that connected orchestral cues with powerful rock band sounds and the pattern-based artistic iterativity of electronic music. While the concert was full of energetic music, it had many quiet and emotional moments as well. From among the many highlights I want to point out the ripping guitar riff in the track “Trash Pack” from Pyre, the glorious moment for strings and harpsichord in “Bynn the Breaker” from Bastion (which also had a great electric guitar riff) as well as the heart-wrenching tenor solo “Lament of Orpheus” from Hades.

The latter was performed by Tomasz Radziszewski who, as a professionally trained tenor, even outshone the recorded performances of composer Darren Korb (Korb sings the male parts on all the Supergiant soundtracks). Radziszewski also impressed on the solo guitar, for example in “Scourge of the Furies“ from Hades – an energetic track that had the orchestra’s entire strings section clapping the beat.

The evening’s second soloist was soprano Sylwia Gorajek, who captivated the audience with her warm voice and her accurate yet deeply emotional rendition of the songs, which followed Ashley Lynn-Barrett’s interpretation quite closely. I found her singing flawlessly throughout the evening, but if I had to highlight one piece of particular magnificence, it would have to be “The Spine” from Transistor.

Screen capture from the video

Though both soloists were superb on their own, they delivered the most touching performances when their voices combined for wonderful duets. Fortunately, this happened multiple times over the course of the concert, e.g. in “The Mourning Song” from Pyre or in “Good Riddance” from Hades, which was played as an encore. 

It could be argued that the music relied a little too much on repetitive elements and maybe some of the musicians got bored at times with the notes they had to play (e.g. during “Apex Beat” or in the piano part from “Last Words”). That might have to do with the nature of game music, as it must work in loops and therefore has to rely on repetition. Overall, I found that Kurdybacha handled this somewhat unwieldy characteristic of Korb’s material excellently and with his choice of pieces as well as with his spirited orchestration he provided a very good basis for the orchestra’s outstanding performance and a captivating evening. 

Despite (or in some way ‘because of’) the corona restrictions more than 50 thousand people saw this wonderful concert as it was streamed in its entirety live on YouTube and Twitch. In case you missed it, it is still online for you to rewatch:

All in all, The Symphony of Four Worlds as well as the entire GMF was a very pleasant experience in a lovely city. I am already looking forward to coming back next year. 

Concert information

Where: Narodowe Forum Muzyki (National Forum of Music) – Wroclaw, Poland
When: October 16, 2020
Orchestra: Sound Factory Orchestra conducted by Robert Kurdybacha

Program

  • Bastion
    • Build that Wall
    • Spike in a Rail
    • Bynn the Breaker
    • Mine, Windbag, Mine
  • Pyre
    • Life Sentence
    • In the Flame
    • Forbidden Knowledge
    • Thrash Pack
    • Mourning Song
  • Hades
    • No Escape
    • Scourge of the FuriesOut of Tartarus
    • Lament of Orpheus
    • Last Words
  • Transistor
    • Dormant
    • Apex Beat
    • In Circles
    • Forecast
    • The Spine
  • Hades (encore)
    • Good Riddance

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