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The short version: Amazing, and absolutely worth getting up at 4:30AM to catch a plane to Melbourne for. I was not crying, it was just very dusty in the Hamer Arts Centre. Click through for the longer version.

In the space of a two hour or so concert (counting intervals and encores), there simply wasn’t time for Joe Hisaishi to do his repertoire of soundtracks justice.

That’s not to say that he didn’t cheerfully, energetically and enthusiastically try. Or that the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra with the support of their Chorus, soloists Antoinette Halloran and Mai Fujisawa, weren’t doing their best to make it happen either.

The result was a superb concert overall, with only a few weak patches.

The first half of the concert covered music from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises, and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Of these the pieces from Nausicaa and surprisingly Ponyo were the strongest in a concert setting, with The Wind Rises probably the weakest.

However the standouts for the concert were in the 2nd half.

If you’ve seen Laputa (listed in the program as Castle in the Sky) you know the iconic scene of Pazu playing trumpet in the morning. Take a largeish concert hall and put some brass players in the uppermost stalls and have them play from there.

Suddenly the sound is coming at you from above, from a place you didn’t expect, and in a way you instinctively connect to the film that the sound is from. Support this with a limited brass/woodwind section on the stage whilst Mr Hisaishi plays piano and you have what was possibly the musical highlight of the concert for me.

The following piece from Porco Rosso, again with a small ensemble, fitted the more melancholy moments of that film with an almost jazz/blues feel and was lovely to hear.

The Howl’s Moving Castle section with the full orchestra was probably the weakest section of the 2nd half. Eminently enjoyable in its own right, but it felt like a bit of a let down coming after the two previous pieces.

Then we came to the Spirited Away theme song and the My Neighbour Totoro opening and ending songs. These were just fabulous, and there were a few tears.

After that the rounds of applause and a couple of encores which I didn’t recognise offhand (although one was from Princess Mononoke judging by the footage on the screen).

Speaking of the screen I have to admit I had a superb seat:

Six rows from the front, and nearly in the centre of the row. For the most part the screen didn’t show footage from the films, it only showed carefully timed and edited scenes. Instead the focus was on the players, singers, and Mr Hisaishi, and this served the concert well. Especially for the players further back in the orchestra who are often hidden behind the strings (at least from the angle I was at).

All in all a great experience, even if it’s left me a little exhausted now. Time to rest for a bit before heading out to Southbank in search of dinner.