For the past six decades, the Richmond Symphony has layered the walls of the city’s historic theatres with a medley of masterworks from the likes of J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky, Frédéric Chopin and Peter Tchaikovsky. Saturday at the Altria Theatre, the storied orchestra and choral programs will add another coat of sound to that mosaic, this time from anthologies composed by Nintendo, Blizzard Entertainment and Square Enix.
“Video Games Live” is a multimedia performance combining the talents of Richmond’s finest instrumentalists and vocalists with synchronized video footage and lighting effects, live-action and interactive segments and electronic percussion. It brings the music of the world’s most popular video games out of the living room and into the concert hall.
Incorporated in 2002, this unconventional amalgamation of symphonic performance and interactive entertainment is the brainchild of Tommy Tallarico, a veteran of the gaming industry whose acclaim stems from his original compositions in popular series such as “Earthworm Jim,” “Metroid,” “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Mortal Kombat.” Tallarico articulates the objectives of the program as twofold.
“I want to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become,” he says. “But I also wanted to help usher in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the arts, to appreciate symphonies and orchestral music.”
When working with a new collective of musicians, Tallarico is keen to the initial skepticism exhibited by a more seasoned generation of performers.
“These are people who are classically trained for 40 years,” he says. “When they first sit down, they’re a little apprehensive, and then they play all together for the first time and they realize … this is Beethoven in the 21st century.”
“Going into it, I thought it would be kind of trite, artificial, or sort of throw-away commercial music, like jingles,” says Richmond Symphony Chorus member Lisa Fusco, a music teacher at St. Gertrude High School, who has been a member of the chorus for three decades but has never picked up a controller. “I found out that this is really quite nice. It’s really like good film score music. It’s sweeping. It’s heroic. It’s exciting.”
Conversely, Vivienne Gire is a new member of the symphony and a lifelong gamer. Equally enamored with the vibrant, rich score of the modern action-adventure game “Bioshock Infinite” as she is with the classic 16-bit tunes from “Super Mario Kart,” Gire has gleefully served as a gaming ambassador by providing necessary context to her colleagues for each of the pieces featured in “Video Games Live.”
She says she’s enjoyed seeing the eyes of her peers light up at the music that has served as a soundtrack throughout her life. She credits Erin Freeman, director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus, with helping to bridge the gap between the unfamiliar territory and the symphony’s more traditional repertoire.
“I definitely saw people coming in, looking at the music and thinking, ‘What are we doing?’ Then they realize that this isn’t someone just plucking out sounds in a studio on a synthesizer, that there’s real thoughtfulness,” Gire says. “These are people who are trained, who understand music and theory that are composing these pieces.”
Composer and chorus member Cameron Parker has begun to draw inspiration from the pieces in “Video Games Live” and incorporate some of their thematic elements into his original work. Originally reluctant to include more complex elements into his compositions, he’s found that the prolific application of these characteristics throughout these pieces of music has made his writing process more forthright.
“A lot of my hesitation when it came to creative, rhythmic structures and implementing them into my own compositions centered on whether people would want to sing it or even hear it,” Parker says. “Was it going to seem kind of elitist? The idea of video-game music being just as complex and thrilling signifies to me that it’s OK to write things like that because they’re accessible and people are going to enjoy them.”
“Video Games Live” promises to bring a more boisterous crowd atmosphere to the symphony in a venue that almost doubles the capacity of its home at the Carpenter Theatre. Fusco hopes that her students will be occupying some of those seats. S
Richmond Symphony presents “Video Games Live” at the Altria Theater on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available online and through the Altria Theater and Richmond Symphony websites.