Indeed, the wild hoots of recognition as the audience hears the sweeping grandeur of Play's opening Final Fantasy fanfare is unlike anything you'd expect to hear from a crowd at a classical music concert. Likewise for the laughs that accompany a later transition to Super Mario Bros.' underwater theme, complete with a montage of swimming animations from Mario games on the giant projection screen above the orchestra. When the familiar Sonic the Hedgehog theme begins during an extended medley, a young boy sitting in the center orchestra section actually gets so excited he turns to his side and high-fives his dad! Show me an 8-year-old who does that when he hears Mahler.
Tallarico says the original idea for Video Games Live came when he was 10 years old, performing air guitar for his friends to the strains of taped Commodore 64 tunes. The actual process of getting the idea out of the bedroom and into the concert hall started in 2001 and finally made it onto the stage at a 2005 Hollywood Bowl premiere that drew over 11,000 attendees.
"We decided we wanted to show the world how significant videogame music is, how special it is," Tallarico said. "We decided the best way to do that is to create a show that not only videogame fans would attend, but a show that the non-gamer would go to and really be blown away by."
The key to doing that, Tallarico says, is synchronizing the music to lighting effects and video performances of the game. "Just doing an orchestral performance is great for the fans, but it doesn't draw in everyone else. It was important to us that we want to draw in everyone else and make it a real entertaining show."
Does it work? You bet, says Tallarico. "The most e-mails we get, oddly enough, after a show, will be from the mom who brought the neighborhood kids or the grandmother who brought the grandson or the girlfriend who got dragged there by the boyfriend. Those are the letters we get that go 'Wow, I never knew that videogame music was this powerful. I never knew that the graphics were this amazing. Thank you for turning me on to this thing. I get it now.'"
All well and good, but does the transference work the other way? That is, can a videogame concert get gamers into the classical music scene? Not so much, according to 8-year-old Play attendee Andy Ng. Despite his enjoyment of the videogame concert, especially the Kingdom Hearts medley, Ng said he probably wouldn't come back to hear the National Symphony perform other classical music. Still, Marilyn Ng, Andy's mother, considered the show to be "a great way to introduce them to [classical] music."
If the number of planned concerts is any indication, a whole lot of people are eager for the same introduction. Video Games Live already has 50 to 60 shows planned for 2007 and 100 more being set up for 2008, according to Tallarico. "Videogames have become the radio of the 21st century. ... I think you're absolutely gonna see this grow and grow and build and build," he says. Videogame concerts might not revive the 21st century classical music the same way opera revived it in the 17th century, but if they don't, it certainly won't be for lack of trying.
Kyle Orland is a video game freelancer. He writes about the world of video game journalism on his weblog, Video Game Media Watch.