On Sunday, 29 April 2018 I was at Riverside Parramatta to experience World Connected, the solo piano concert featuring music from Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy. It was the first concert produced by Natalya Aynsley and she has clearly mastered how to artfully blend musical talent, storytelling and quirky humour into her performances.
The first half of Worlds Connected was dedicated to music from Kingdom Hearts. As expected from the trailer and her style of YouTube videos on Natalya Plays Piano, complexed and moving piano pieces played a pivotal role in her performance. Among the many pieces played, we were treated to the theme for Twilight Town “Lazy Afternoons” which was quite apt for the audience – I’m sure many of us, myself included, enjoyed a lazy Sunday arvo prior to the concert and the sentimental tone felt right at home.
There were darker, more gloomy tones though and the intensity of “3rd Mov: Riku Scherzo e Intermezzo” was keenly felt as the lighting and swirling smoke of the stage gave the performance a haunting, almost ethereal quality. There were times when, during the dramatic pauses and rumbling low notes of 3rd Mov: Riku Scherzo e Intermezzo, you would let your imagination run wild and the pockets of darkness on the stage where the lighting and smoke did not touch took on a more sinister quality… but sinister only for a moment.
After each piece, the lighting would change, and Natalya would talk to the audience about the game, her experiences and what she was going to play next. This helped the audience to follow the concert in a more engaging and involved way than if they simply read it on a concert program. It was like a nice breather, especially after the intense pieces, so we can have a few laughs and get ready for the next one. During these moments, the quirky humour, candid nature, anecdotes and impromptu responses from Natalya often left the audience in stitches. In some ways, this was quite unexpected as the videos of her on YouTube often focus on the keyboard (which sometimes, hilariously, gets walked over by her cat such as during her video on Resphoina from Arion and her video on the Westworld Theme) but we don’t really see her or hear her thoughts on camera.
Natalya’s quirky style sometimes found its way into the performance itself which added to the enjoyment of the audience. For instance, one of the more unorthodox pieces played in the Final Fantasy themed second half of the concert was the loosely translated “Monster Create”, a song that plays during a monster customisation menu screen in one of the games: that’s really random. It’s not a major theme or a recurring theme. It’s just a really random piece with a pleasantly whimsical feel that no one would have expected her to play just moments after gripping, powerful showstoppers like Kingdom Hearts’ “Medley of Conflict”.
After closing out the first half of the concert with “Medley of Conflict”, the second half began with the sprightly and playful “Cinco de Chocobo”, the Chocobo theme from Final Fantasy VII. I couldn’t help but wonder if the feathered cocktail dress worn by Natalya was a nod to the Chocobo, that recurring and instantly recognisable default mascot of the Final Fantasy series that spans across multiple platforms and eras of gaming. Whatever the case, Natalya did take us back to the Super Nintendo days with her rendition of “Theme of Love” from Final Fantasy IV. This was the one piece in the whole concert that she did not provide background details for, choosing instead to mysteriously leave us with just the name before performing the piece. However, with a name like “Theme of Love” that so clearly spells out the sentiment that it hopes to evoke, was any elaboration necessary? Hardly so.
For fans of Final Fantasy X, there was “To Zanarkand”. We learnt about how it’s based on Samarkand in Uzbekistan and how the composer Nobuo Uematsu had a stint in the Middle East as part of the creative process. This piece was one of those that many Final Fantasy fans would find instantly recognizable and you can tell from the audience’s cheers when Natalya announced it that there were many fans in the crowd.
After more pieces from across the Final Fantasy series, we arrived at what is perhaps the most iconic of Final Fantasy VII tunes: “One-Winged Angel”, the somewhat maniacal and angsty theme for Sephiroth (you know, that villain with the flowing, well-conditioned hair and a sword about as long as a car). That would have been a great way to end the show but there was still one more treat left.
Having taken us on a journey across Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, Natalya closed the show by performing a pleasant medley of the songs sung by Utada Hikaru throughout the Kingdom Hearts series. With Utada Hikaru confirmed as doing the theme for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III, and Yoko Shimomura returning to compose the music, what new musical gems will we get to listen to when the game is finally released later this year? I’m sure it will ignite a new wave of online piano covers, compositions and, we hope, concerts.
For more on Natalya, and to check out more clips of Worlds Connected, please visit the Natalya Plays Piano YouTube Channel.