Friday Review: Video Games Live Concert

Last weekend I performed with the South Arkansas Symphony for a program called Video Games Live. The show has been around for nearly 10 years, and has toured internationally. All of the music for the show is taken from current and past video games, and includes live and pre-recorded video footage, light effects, and other elements normally associated with a rock or pop concert. Here’s a nice promotional video for the show’s live broadcast on PBS with the Louisiana Philharmonic in 2010.

I played video games quite a bit when I was younger, and still play them occasionally, so the much of the music for this concert brought back some nice memories. Logistically the show is quite involved, and required lots of extra setup time for the crew. Once marginalized and considered purely functional, video game music has come a long way since the early days, and there are many game scores which rival those of the biggest Hollywood films. There were plenty of big parts for the horns and other brass, but the ones I remember the most came from these games:

  • World of Warcraft
  • God of War
  • Metal Gear Solid

The show’s creator told us that they have around 90 orchestrations of music from various games, and they pick around 18 or so for each concert to create a different experience each time. Some of the other numbers on our concert came from games in the Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Castlevania franchises. The concert was programmed to a click track, and the show brought along their own guest conductor. Here’s a shot from the horn section. Notice the earpiece hanging on the stand for the click track. Overall things went pretty smoothly during the rehearsal and concert. The conductor obviously knew the scores very well, and was able to quickly address any issues as they arose. The biggest issue throughout the show for me was being able to follow the click track during tempo changes.

Pops concerts like this one are usually popular with their target audiences, and I was pleased to see so many people actively engaged at an orchestral performance.   The show was interactive and fast paced, definitely geared towards a younger audience. However, these shows aren’t always well liked by everyone in the orchestra, and I can certainly see that side of the argument as well. On one hand, I tend to support shows that bring in new audiences and reach out to demographics that might not normally attend an orchestral concert – which this one certainly did.  But the other side of the coin is that these shows don’t necessarily build support for more traditional programming, or cultivate the idea of an orchestra as an educational and cultural institution. Pops concerts are a reality of the business, and are definitely here to stay, but finding the balance between popular and traditional programming can be tricky. The differing perceptions of what an orchestra is and how it functions in society have been, and will continue to be, a central debate in the future of classical music.  Do you have any thoughts on the subject?  Feel free to comment!  [Emotions can run high when discussing this topic, but please keep everything civil or your comment may not be approved.]

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