An image of Eímear Noone wearing a red and black jacket, holding a baton. It is daylight and she is standing in front of a modern building
Eímear Noone © Steve Humpheys

On Thursday 2 June 2022 at London's historic Royal Albert Hall the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will bring awe-inspiring scores to life from many much-loved video games, conducted and presented by video game composer royalty: Eímear Noone.

Ahead of the special performance, which will feature classic music from video games including Final Fantasy, Halo, The Legend of Zelda and World of Warcraft, we sat down with Eímear for an in-depth chat. Read on to find out what she is most exicted about at the concert, the most valuable lessons she has leant from video game music composition, her memories of the Royal Albert Hall and more.

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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is delighted to be partnered with Classic FM for this concert.

What does conducting the RPO at this concert mean to you?

I've happily worked with the RPO a few times before, its an orchestra with an extraordinary attitude that's so inspiring and exciting to me. I'm in California now and I'm really looking forward to seeing everybody’s faces.

I always I find a great open-mindedness with the RPO and when you're working with music that's relatively new to the orchestral world, having that kind of attitude is really exceptional and it transcends the stage and is something that the audience picks up on. This is the kind of audience that treats the orchestra really well and shows so much appreciation, it really makes their night to see smiles on stage and to see how into the music the musicians of the Orchestra are.

What do you enjoy more, conducting live performances or composing music?

It's kind of a split personality really. When you're composing, and also when you're preparing for a concert, you spend so much time on your own that the treat comes when you get to be with the orchestra. But hearing the orchestra play music that you have pulled out of thin air never gets old. When you see these incredible artists, even listening to people just noodle through the part while they are sitting on the stage is so meaningful to me.

I've heard some pieces of my own music played by orchestras all over the world, but coming back to Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, their sister orchestra the RPCO were there for my first set of video game music concerts in 2011 where we did the 25th anniversary of the Legend of Zelda together. A lot of people that were in the audience that night are coming to this concert and they have shown up to everything I've done in the UK ever since.

It's very significant to me that my first time performing in the UK as a young conductor was with the RPCO and it was a music from the Legend of Zelda, so there is a little bit of a of a call back to that moment planned for this concert.

Do have any fond memories of visiting the Royal Albert Hall?

So many, so many memories. I remember I used to come over on a cheap flight as a student and queue up outside for standing tickets for the concerts. I remember seeing one conductor shush the audience in-between movements of a Mozart flute and harp concerto, I remember laughing my head off.

I also remember making friends with the ushers and they would let me sit in the choir balcony so I could watch the conductor. I'd go to the really late night contemporary music concerts and they'd let me sit in the nice seats. I have so many memories from the Proms as a student that are like yesterday, they're so clear.

But I loved the Royal Albert Hall so much, I felt it was my learning arena. I was seeing some of the best artists in the world. One of the things about the Proms in particular, that is so dear to my heart, is making it accessible for young people and people on any income to come and see the greatest artists in the world. That's amazing.

I know the inside of that that hall so well from hopping around different seats and finding out where I wanted to sit for a [Schoenberg] Pierrot lunaire concert because I'm a huge fan of contemporary art music… well that's not contemporary really anymore! But as a student it was an important part of my inspiration and my education.

What are you most excited about at this concert?

Well there’s so many things, but one is that I’m going to be there conducting some of my own music in the programme, standing in the footsteps of composer, suffragette, and Irish woman Alicia Adelaide Needham who was the first woman to conduct at the Royal Albert Hall.’. We get to vote in Ireland because of her and her cohort, and I grew up not knowing anything about her. I'm on a mission make sure that never happens again for young female artists. It means so much to me because she conducted her own music on that podium back in the 1910s and here I am standing in her spot doing as she did.

The thing about video game music, and about this audience which is really important to me, is that many of the people in this audience will be in a concert hall seeing the orchestra for the first time. So seeing a women on the podium, it'll never be special or unusual for them ever. Especially the younger ones. They're not going to go, “oh my God the conductor's a woman” they're not going to think that. Every concert they go to thereafter, it's not going to be special because it happened at the first concert they saw.

My working life is quite diverse, from opera to ballet, or film to rock and roll, to video game music. But the video game music audience I feel so passionately about because they're an audience that appreciates us so deeply. I put a lot of love into the programming because of them - and many of them are coming to the orchestra for the first time.

I know a lot of the audience in London, I know them personally at this point! Some of them are going to be coming to hear video game music by a live orchestra for the tenth time and they came the first time to the RPCO to see Zelda back in 2011, so that's really important to me.

Also, this is an audience that's very inquisitive. They read about the composers, they make their own arrangements. I've been gifted leather bound arrangements that people have made for their college thesis on video game music. I get sent scores by people constantly and arrangements they've done, there's this whole subculture of doing your own arrangement of the themes and it's very vibrant and I just love that so much. You have people all over the world taking out their instruments to do their own version of themes from this music. It's a thing, it's a cultural thing where it’s normal to do your own arrangements of the Legend of Zelda. I think that's unique and I don’t really see that anywhere else, where you have that number of people making their own versions of the music. They're so passionate about it.

But standing in Alicia Adélaide Needham’s footprints, and, because I feel so inspired by her, I'm bringing along a young Irish artist, Aisling McGlynn, who's actually going to premiere two pieces from the brand new Chrono: Radical Dreamer. She is spectacular. She's only nineteen. I mean, I'm not giving her the opportunity, she's already recorded two of the biggest musical numbers of the year in the entire genre. It is a privilege to have her to premiere these pieces. I searched around for something special for the audience that would be unique because I know so many of these guys. I wanted to give them some treat so they could leave the hall and say we just heard “Radical Dreamers live, nobody in the world has heard that live!”. Chrono is such a beloved franchise, it's just a part of video game history.

The other thing about this concert, at this point in time we're talking about video game music history and video game history. We're going all the way back to the 80s and coming right up to this year. There's a historical component and you can see some of these pieces have massive orchestration and choir and they're very much in the fantasy film harmonic language space. You can can always hear a bit of Stravinsky in there, and a bit of Berlioz, and a bit of Brahms.

That's the other thing about this audience, they love the backstory and the backstory to video game music is the classical repertoire. My background is totally traditionally classical. Most of us grew up on Brahms and Beethoven and when we're orchestrating and writing this is in our DNA. That is the backstory to this music. So I love to hear when I get a message from a video game music fan saying “do you know this guy Mahler? Like oh my God!” and they've just discovered this whole new side, because they will see Mahler in this fantasy realm, in this massive soundscape and that just completely makes my day every time.

Eimear Noone Video Games in Concert Royal Albert Hall interview

"This is an audience that's very inquisitive. They read about the composers, they make their own arrangements."

What would you say is the most valuable thing you have learnt from scoring video games?

Well one of the things I've learned is that the scope is so huge. You can really push the boundaries and the audience will let you. This is a sophisticated audience. We go from little kids to every age. But the core audience, the core gamer community is very sophisticated and they want detail. I love that because that's my background and I felt, especially working with Activision Blizzard, sometimes I felt like a kid in the candy store. It was like ‘here's your amazing giant orchestra, here’s your huge choir, what else do you want? Do you want a hurdy gurdy?’ I put a ram’s horn into one of my pieces, had somebody come in and literally play a piece of an animal to make sounds. But contemporary art music composers have been doing that forever. Since it was a really big deal for Mozart to bring the clarinet into the orchestra we've been doing all of these kinds of crazy things. I felt that the director and the producers wanted us to go there and would facilitate us going there.

I love the imagination and puzzles. I've been quoted a few times as saying if Mozart were alive today one of the things he would write would be video game music and I never get to qualify what I mean by that. What I mean is that when we have to create music that interacts with the player, it's like a musical puzzle. The music has to operate on so many levels and it has it has to change in an indeterminate way and Mozart absolutely loved puzzles and he especially loved musical puzzles. Nobody quotes me on that part. It just looks like there's this person who is making massive big claims about Mozart. I know Mozart's music very, very, well but his personality would have loved the puzzle and challenge of making music that works musically but that also fits this puzzle of the game in engine.

When composing for video games, what's your starting point for inspiration? E.G with the setting, the story, the characters...

Well, it depends on if you're being brought into an existing franchise or if it's an expansion. You want to know where you are in the lore. I want to know all about the lore and I want as much artwork as I can get. This is typical of every type of composer when you have a visual stimulus. So many art music composers and so many concert music composers would start with a painting by say an artist like Paul Clay or Rothko and be inspired by that. I want to see colours and visuals, whatever we have. It depends on which part of the game you're dealing with as well. Working on a cinematic is like working on an animated feature - and generally cinematic is one of the last things to get done. You could have a little bit of rendered animation to look at, or you could have stick figures to look at or one of the producers doing the dialogue. But the first thing you want to know is, is your edit locked in? Because the rate of movement of the cuts and the edits will inform tempo, they'll inform phrase length, they'll inform so many things. We're trying to be musical inside of the edit and use it as a framework.

The other is when you're doing in-game music and you have full autonomy. You can't tread on dialogue like in film because you don't know when the dialogue's going to happen. So you can write this big expansive music that we call the hero version. Often the hero version will be the big themes, the big piece - the hero versions are what we're going to be performing at the Royal Albert Hall. Then we'll deconstruct that hero version and take the themes elsewhere for different functionality inside of the game. But in-game music, since we don't have an edit to deal with, you have freedom but you've got no framework. In that instance I go for the lore. I want to do a lot of reading, we want to play the game, you want to get into the character, you want to be the character and what look around you and see what you're experiencing. We want to set up an environment to lead or enable the player to get out of their daily life and into this fantasy reality, to just be fully immersed. That's our job, to ignite the imagination and the emotions, to fully immerse people in the experience. That's where the attachment to this music comes as well, there's a psychological component. People live with this music for a long time, it's not like watching a movie for a couple of hours and then leaving the theatre. You're surrounded by this music for quite sometime, and in some cases years!

What advice would you have for someone inspired by the concert to start writing music?

Be endlessly curious is one. Every colleague of mine I know is endlessly curious about music and we're never satisfied with what we know. Creativity is going deep into your imagination and finding your unique voice. That's really, really important. Taking everything that makes you ‘you’ is important in creating a unique artist. You want to have your own unique slant on things. All of the fibres of you as a unique individual because there is only one you. Mine those things to find your creative voice. You're mining every little thing about you and every experience you've ever had.

The other thing is to learn the technology and get as many tools and skills as you can. Also traditional compositional techniques are really important - harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration. The other thing to remember is, for media composition, there are different types of musicians and whatever your background there's a place for you. So if you come from a rock and roll background, a jazz background, a classical background, there is a place for you. That's really important to state. It's not just somebody who's a genius at music technology. It's not somebody that's a genius classical musician. Not just somebody who's in a famous rock band. There's room for every type of musician in this area because it's about expression and it's about unique expression.

What is one of your favourite pieces from the Video Games in Concert repertoire?

There’s nothing like performing your own music, but I’m going to put that on the shelf. The themes from the Legend of Zelda are really important to me and really emotional but I'm going to put that on the shelf too, because that's not fair!

I know the RPO and I know their energy, so I'm really looking forward to doing the Wesker Battle from Resident Evil and One-Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII, because it shows off the orchestra so well. I'm really passionate about the audience seeing the blood, sweat and tears on stage, real human beings with real instruments in real time. No bells and whistles, no tricks. It's all right there in front of you. These pieces, the energy that comes off the orchestra is just so great and the audience reacts to that energy and that excitement. You get to see some crazy instruments. We have a trash can in Resident Evil as a percussion instrument and it sounds so cool it's a great sound, and it's not just there as a gimmick it’s actually the sound of the aluminium and the way it's played. It's terrifying as part of that piece, It's amazing!

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