Reviewed by Barb Van Atta
Soundtracks of video games are part of the “music of my life” – and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only parent in the audience last night (Nov. 16), when the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra presented “Video Games Live,” who could recall reaching a breaking point after hearing the same Sonic snippet over and over again.
But just as video games (and gaming systems) have grown exponentially in quality and sophistication, so have their soundtracks evolved from beeps and bells to sweeping, cinematic scores.
Tommy Tallarico, president of Intellivision Entertainment and composer of myriad game scores, started “Video Games Live” (hereafter to be referred to as “VGL”) in 2002 to celebrate the music that gamers love. The BPO/VGL collaboration at The Forum in Binghamton combined orchestrations of popular soundtracks with screenings of game scenes and a multi-colored light show.
At the concert (and a similar one the day before in Ithaca), Tallarico served as host and guitarist, joined by Binghamton University’s Harpur Chorale and, on the second of two encores, Jason Paige, original singer of the Pokemon TV show theme song (“Gotta Catch ’Em All”). Longtime Tallarico collaborator Emmanuel Fratianni conducted the BPO.
More than 800 people attend last night’s concert. I would guess that the majority were young adult gamers and youth gamers (accompanied by parents). Full disclosure: I’m not part of that majority. I’m not a gamer. Never was.
Therefore, I was less inclined to whoop, cheer and spring to my feet. However, I can understand the impulse. Because so many popular games involve quests, battles and other challenges for the protagonists, their scores evolve from suspenseful to heroic.
Selection after selection – “Metroid,” the Asian-tinged “Shadow of the Colossus,” “Mass Effect” with its outer-spacey vibe, “World of Warcraft” – reached the same type of triumphant, double forte conclusion. If this had been a traditional symphonic concert, an argument could be made against the lack of variety in programming. At a VGL performance, however, it just meant fans has a continuous supply of gaming’s greatest hits.
Notable selections for me were the propulsive soundtrack to “Phoenix Wright”; the jazz/funky feel to Tallarico’s personal favorite, “Earthworm Jim”; the intensity of “Final Fantasy 7,” and the non-heroic, almost pastoral portion of “The Legend of Zelda.”
Also on the program were themes from “Castlevania,” “Overwatch,” “Metal Gear,” “Kingdom Hearts” (complete with a cavalcade of Disney characters on screen), “Undertale,” “Skyrim,” Super Mario Bros.,” “Street Fighter II’ and “Chrono Trigger.”
Both Tallarico and Fratianni rightly reminded the audience that our community is lucky to have a first-rate orchestra. Last night, particular praise goes to the timpani and other percussion, the horns and brass and, in “Ōkami,” the flute soloist and the harpist. As a more traditional listener, my one disappointment was that the musicians were amplified. Yes, this made them sound more like a soundtrack, but, if the goal was to attract a new audience to more BPO concerts, wouldn’t it have been good to show what an orchestra sounds like au naturel?
A special hat tip to the members of Harpur Chorale, who provided the otherworldly sounds and Gregorian-esque chants so often associated with sword-and-sorcery adventures. They also sang backup for Paige’s “Pokemon” theme, a possible childhood dream-come-true for the Pikachu fans in the chorus.
Last night’s enthusiastic audience was proof that out-of-the-box programming such as “VGL” is a great way to bring new (and younger) patrons to an orchestra concert. Now, the BPO must figure out ways to make Mozart as appealing as Mario.