Play with this symphony

The National Symphony Orchestra will perform music of video games at Wolf Trap

August 03, 2006|By SARAH MARSTON | SARAH MARSTON,SUN REPORTER

Video-game music is making the leap from consoles to concert halls with PLAY! a video-game symphony world tour that comes to Wolf Trap tomorrow.

With a full orchestra and choir, the concert presents symphonic scores adapted from such blockbuster games as Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Halo, Sonic the Hedgehog, Kingdom Hearts, World of Warcraft and more.

"We're elevating the music of video gaming; it's not just a limited niche," said Jason Michael Paul, producer of PLAY! and the first to bring a video game-music concert series to the United States in 2004. "It's credible music with integrity and meaning."

The National Symphony Orchestra and chorus will perform at Wolf Trap with PLAY! Principal Conductor and Music Director Arnie Roth. Giant video screens will show graphics from the games and close-ups of musicians.

"It's very cinematic," Roth said. "If you don't know the games, it sounds like sumptuous film scores. It's gratifying and challenging to conduct."

The choir sings Japanese and Latin-like lyrics, along with more onomatopoetic, "textural" sounds, Roth said. Vocals accompany nearly half of the scores, which vary with each performance depending on time. "There's a great musical variety, from rock orchestra to sweeping percussion to big band," Roth said.

The tour attracts a diverse audience, Paul and Roth both noted. "It ranges from orchestral concert-goers to avid gamers to music aficionados to family and date nights. It's an interesting dynamic we're creating," Paul said.

The combined audience of regular classical concertgoers and young video-game fans creates an exceptional hybrid, according to Roth. "They're as quiet or quieter than a disciplined classical audience during the performance, then give the wild ovations of a rock or pop concert," Roth said. "It's the best of all worlds."

Despite the benefits of the tour, Roth does find it hard to work with a different orchestra at every location. "The challenge is the amount of rehearsal time we get," he said. "There are solos peppered throughout the entire orchestra, and they only get the music about a week ahead of time. I'm very fortunate, though, to work with great orchestras; they make it easier for me."

Paul cited several criteria that were considered in the tour's musical selection: Whether the music could be translated from digital files into orchestral arrangements, the support of game producers and music composers, video-game sales, the producers' personal favorites and the responses of fans from previous shows. Composers involved in the music's arrangement included Roth and Final Fantasy's Japanese composer, Nobuo Uematsu.

The tour also was in Sweden last month and will visit Toronto in September. "The European and U.S. shows have been met with the same reaction: They sell out," Paul said. "Most of the video games have universal appeal."

The PLAY! series is an offshoot of Dear Friends -- Music From FINAL FANTASY, Paul's first video-game concert series and the first performed in the United States. The first series ran from 2004 to 2005 and was a collaboration with Roth and Uematsu. Paul said he "couldn't run away from the success" of the first project and was excited for the opportunity PLAY! provided to appeal to a wider range of game fans.

Paul has produced for Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, OutKast and the Foo Fighters, and Roth has collaborated with Diana Ross, Charlotte Church and Art Garfunkel. Roth won a Grammy as a member of Mannheim Steamroller.

Paul hopes his work in video-game music will improve the popularity of modern cultural arts. "Arts are falling to the wayside and with this, we're seeing a resurgence," he said.

PLAY! will be performed at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow at Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road in Vienna, Va. Tickets are $18-$42. For more information on the concert, visit play-symphony.com. For tickets, call 877-965-3872 or visit wolf-trap.org.

sarah.marston@baltsun.com

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