A Masterful Interview with Symphony of the Goddesses Conductor Amy Andersson

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Amy Andersson is the conductor for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses. She’s traveled the world, leading orchestras to perform the enchanting compositions of Koji Kondo. Apart from working with the Symphony of the Goddesses, she’s a professor at the Berlin University of Arts, the music director at the CPE Bach Gymnaisum orchestra, and has led numerous opera productions in Germany. Just before commencing the Symphony’s two year world tour at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on June 13, Amy sat down with us to discuss her early musical roots and how working with the Symphony has helped to increase her appreciation for video games as an art form.

So you began down the path of music as a pianist. When you were starting off, who were some of your major influences?

I was trained as a pianist, so I coached singers, and I played for opera workshops and all those kinds of things that you do as a pianist, but I never had any ambition to be a pianist on the concert stage. As for my influences, I listen to new recordings all of the time, and certainly the classics, like Rachmaninoff playing his own music. Brendel is one of my favorite piansts, as is William Kapell, who had a very short career and a tragic death. He was one of my favorites. I love the way Evgeny Kissin and Arcadi Volodos play. So I listen to a lot of recordings obviously, and certainly I don’t have the time to listen like I used to, but that influenced my musical upbringing.

What compelled you to focus on conducting?

Well, I was fascinated by and fell in love with the orchestral repertoire. I heard the great orchestras when I was a student, and I saw the great conductors, and I wanted to be part of it. As an auxilliary pianist, you, of course, play in an orchestral repertoire, but I wanted to have a bigger part in it, and I certainly wasn’t going to take up the violin and start that. So I started developing an interest in conducting, and from my conducting classes and experiences, I found that I was able to do the repertoire that I loved and be part of the orchestra.

What is your favorite piece from the Symphony of the Goddesses and why do you connect with it?

I have three. I love Ocarina of Time, I love Wind Waker, and I love Twilight Princess. They’re just incredible pieces. It’s the orchestration, it’s the color, it’s the sound that comes out of those three pieces that is so compelling and beautiful. There’s so much variation in what goes on in those pieces. Wind Waker, specifically, is just a roller coaster ride through every possible musical landscape, and it’s thrilling. It’s kind of hard to resist loving that piece.

zelda concert_1
Arrangements for this year’s tour include songs from Triforce Heroes and Majora’s Mask 3D.

From a music theory standpoint, what are some moments from the compositions that impressed you when you first read them?

The music embraces many different styles. It spans the globe. There’s a hint of Japanese flute, there’s folk tunes, there’s a little bit of Mahler, a little bit of Strauss, a little bit of Carl Orff. It’s just a wonderful combination of all of these musical mosaics, and it constantly shifts gears. It’s a musical chameleon, in the way that it changes. I think they’re incredibly, beautifully composed.

How surprised were you at the level of musicality in the original compositions?

It’s incredibly musical. It’s intuitive, imaginative, creative. I wasn’t surprised at all because [Koji Kondo] has a fabulous mind. I wasn’t surprised. I thought it made sense because [Kondo is] so extraordinary.

What do you find particularly enthralling about the Zelda series?

I’m not a huge gamer and I’ve never claimed to be one. I’ve started gaming recently, and I’ve played Skyward Sword and just bought my first 3DS a few months ago. I guess what I find so enthralling is the profound level of creativity, the endless possibilities, the complexity. I find the whole construction of what they’ve created extraordinary. I’m not a gamer, but I intuitively understand how incredible this universe of Zelda is.

You were a conductor for the Replay: Symphony of Heroes concert as well. Were there any other scores from the games that stood out to you?

I loved Bioshock and Elder Scrolls. I adored those pieces. And also Final Fantasy, which is an absolute masterpiece.

Has working on the Symphony of the Goddesses shifted your perception toward video games?

My kids have been playing the Zelda games for years and still do. It hasn’t changed my perception of games because I’ve always thought they were incredible. I appreciate the original melodies even more, now that I am doing the orchestral versions. I look back at the original melodies, and they’re much simpler and transparent, of course, but what Koji Kondo had in his mind, what he was dreaming up, is very clear and spectacular. I really appreciate that now, more than I had before.

The Mann CenterPhiladelphia, PaSeptemeber 18,
Along with video game arrangements, Andersson has conducted operatic and symphonic concerts. PHOTO CREDIT: Derek Brad

Although you aren’t a gamer, can you weigh in on the “video games as art” debate?

They are an art form, and they’re here to stay. It’s a profound art from that is shaping culture in incredible ways. Video game music is here to stay, much like film music, as they accompany the visuals. In 2012, they started to give out Grammys, and Austin Wintory got his Grammy for Journey. It took a long time for them to decide. They didn’t have the wisdom to say, “This is art,” and I was thrilled when they finally did. Gaming and gaming music have just had a profound influence.

A couple months ago, you posted a photo of yourself on Instragram after getting into a car accident. Would you mind talking about that experience?

Not at all. I conducted a concert in Costa Mesa, California on March 8, and I had to get back from the Segerstrom Concert Hall to the hotel, which was only a mile and a half away. Sometimes, we have a runner that takes us back, but we didn’t have one that night, so I had to take a cab. I got in and couldn’t put my seatbelt in because the buckle was pushed down below the seat, so I thought, “Well, it’s only a mile and a half.” We were coming up to the hotel, and the cab driver, instead of stopping at a red arrow to turn left, turned through the arrow into the oncoming traffic and hit a car, which crushed my side of the cab. Because I wasn’t belted, I didn’t get killed and was instead thrown to the other side of the car. I had two cracked ribs, a partially collapsed lung, a concussion, whiplash, and I was pretty bruised. I still have a bruise on my leg to this day. I was pretty shook up but I took time off and did physical therapy. I’m working out three times a week, and now I’m stronger than I was before the crash. So the good news is that I’m not going anywhere and I’m happy to be here tonight.

You’ve achieved a notable level of success in your career. Was getting to where you are today a linear path, or did you struggle and pivot throughout your career?

I pivoted, not struggled. It’s never a linear path in the arts, not at all. I worked for ten years in Germany, in the opera houses there. I achieved a great amount of success there and learned a tremendous amount, and then I moved back to the States and started on other things, and I moved back to Europe again to start other projects, and moved back to the States again. In that sense, I pivoted back and forth. I wouldn’t say I ever struggled. I always knew exactly what I wanted to do. I know who I am, what I can do. It’s just a matter of pursuing that with determination.

If you could give any advice to burgeoning musicians and conductors, what would it be?

You’ve got to love it more than anything else in the world because it’s a very tough profession, but I’m not meaning to discourage anyone. Listen to as much music as you can, go to as many concerts as you can. Make acquaintances with musicians, hang out with them, introduce yourself to conductors. You’ve got to fully immerse yourself in the world of music, and not just classical music. Nowadays, because orchestras are struggling, orchestras are doing other programs, like rock concerts and all sorts of other things. So if you want to be a conductor, it’s very good to be comfortable with everything. If you only want to conduct Beethovan’s Fifth Symphony, you probably won’t get a job. The world’s changed, we’ve all moved on. It’s all about inclusivity for the audience, making them part of something and getting them excited. Embrace all different styles. Beautiful music is beautiful music. It doesn’t matter if it’s classical, or rock, or pop, or jazz, or reggae, or video game music. When it’s good, it’s good, so embrace all of it.

We would like to thank Amy Andersson and Jason Michael Paul, as well as the musicians who performed with excellence at the Symphony. Link may be the Hero of Time (and the Hero of Winds, and the Hero of Hyrule), but they all are the Heroes of Music.

Written by Lee Feldman

Lee is a writer, game designer, and graduate student from Los Angeles, California. As a gamer, he is primarily inspired by fascinating worlds with deep stories, rich characters, and sharp gameplay, with a love of games both old and new. When he isn't collecting rare NES cartridges, he can be found obsessing over mixed martial arts.

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