Monday, April 26, 2010

Play! A Video Game Symphony

Mackenzie and I went to see Play! A Video Game Symphony this weekend, and I don't think I've ever seen more 10 - 15 year old boys at the symphony ever. In fact, at intermission there weren't even any lines for the women's bathrooms, something I've never experienced. And how often do you hear whistles and thunderous applause in the middle of a piece of music at the symphony (by the way, this was encouraged by the conductor, so the audience wasn't being rude, just ebullient!)

This is a touring concert (coming next to Vancouver, Canada), but each city that hosts it uses their own symphony and choir. Here, it was guest-conducted by Andy Brick, who is a composer of game music himself and did an excellent job in the conductor's role. He was also a great speaker who is obviously very conversant with the world of video games and so he did a good job introducing all of the pieces. Also, in the audience on the night we saw it was Jeremy Soule who composed my favorite piece of the evening, the theme to Elder Scrolls Oblivion.

One thing I really loved about the concert was that they had three huge screens above the stage. They not only showed clips from each game as the theme was being performed, but they had several cameras set up within the orchestra and chorus and a particular instrument or instrumental grouping played, they would show that instrument on the screen. So you would hear the timpani drums, and at the same time you would be watching the drummer, or watching the piccolo player during the flute sections of the music. I thought that was a brilliant stroke because for kids (or for anyone not conversant with the orchestra), it's great to be able to connect what you're hearing with what instrument is making that sound. Otherwise, how do you know that the reedy part is played by the oboe, by that person with their lips all pursed together around that funny little reedy instrument? The other benefit of the cameras within the orchestra is that we got to see the conductor from the orchestra's point of view, which was interesting to watch.

I also liked seeing how the choir was used basically as an instrument. In most of the video game pieces, the choir doesn't actually use any language, they are just singing notes with an open vowel sound. So in essence, they are more like an instrument than a chorus. There was only one piece where they had any lyrics, and I couldn't tell if it was in Latin or in some made-up language like Orcish or something.

Mackenzie's favorite pieces were Zelda which, as he says, has some of the best video game music ever composed. He was a little disappointed that they didn't include any music from the Ocarina of Time, or Epona's Theme which is another popular piece of music from the Zelda series. We both thought that the piece they played for the encore, One Winged Angel from the Final Fantasy series was probably the most intriguing of the night. Apparently the composer Nobuo Uematsu said in an interview that this piece was designed to be a fusion of the musical styles of Igor Stravinsky and Jimi Hendrix!

All in all, we had a terrific evening, the symphony and choir were great as always (for such a small city, we have terrific arts and music). Although Mackenzie is a classical music lover anyway, I do think it's cool that the symphony is reaching out to new audiences in unique and creative ways.


Anthony Pagano said...


I just read your blog and you hit all the key points as to why the video screens and cameras are on this tour.

I am Play's video tour director and it thrills me that you saw what is our vision for this show. I have been directing cameras for music for over 25 years and to be a part of this type of show enables me to connect young and old in the same venue and that is just amazing.

It's wonderful to again see families coming together and having that NIGHT OUT!

Thank you again.

Anthony Pagano

Robin said...

Thanks for your comment Anthony, I thought you all did a wonderful job of fusing a multimedia experience that really engaged the whole audience. As you say, it brought together people of all ages, and for those who are familiar with gaming it gave them exposure to the orchestra that they might not have. For those who are orchestra and symphony fans, they got to experience the visuals and music from the games that they might not have ever seen before. It was a really excellent night out and everyone I know that went really enjoyed it. Pass on our thanks!