Play! A Video Game Symphony brings classical music to a new set of fans

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      The life of a gamer is intense. It was all my wife could do to tear me away from a six-hour online Halo showdown the first time she went into labour, and I’m not even close to being a serious player. Now take somebody who’s logged a significant chunk of their existence pounding Red Bulls in front of a 19-inch monitor, and hit that person in the chest with a live orchestra and choir performing the theme from World of Warcraft. The payload is huge.

      “It’s definitely emotional,” says Andy Brick, calling the Straight from Hoboken, New Jersey. “And I think part of it is that it might be their first experience with a symphony. And for anyone, regardless of whether you’re a gamer or not, your first time at a symphony orchestra is a pretty moving experience.” Brick theorizes that there’s also a unique dynamic at work. “It not only gives the power of the orchestra,” he says, “it gives the power of the emotion of the experience during the game play, which for some of these games can be pretty dramatic.”

      Brick is the principal conductor for Play! A Video Game Symphony, and a film and game soundtrack composer in his own right. He more or less pioneered the orchestration and symphonic performance of video-game music, starting in 2003 with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra (in Europe and North America—although the Japanese, not surprisingly, had already been doing it for about a decade prior to that).

      Seducing listeners out of the basement with versions of the soundtracks for epic titles like Medal of Honour along with splendidly inflated versions of old 8-bit classics such as Super Mario Bros. turned out to be a wildly successful idea. Underappreciated composers like Final Fantasy’s Nobuo Uematsu were getting their long-deserved due, while the classical world was given the opportunity to PWN a whole new and very big crowd.

      “When I did my first concert in 2003 in Leipzig,” Brick relates, “I sat down with the orchestra on the first day of rehearsals, and they were very curious. They were looking at this music they had never seen, and I said to them: ”˜At this concert, my function is to be no more than the bridge that facilitates your next-generation audience. If it’s nothing more than that, I will consider it a huge success.”

      Mission accomplished. Fan response has been universally “joyful”, to use Brick’s word, and the conductor has more than 70 concerts behind him since Leipzig, working with the New York Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, among others, and coming here Monday (December 6) to lead the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and Bach Choir in Play! A Video Game Symphony, complete with projected video clips from the games. No matter where he is, he’s especially encouraged by the enthusiasm coming from the pit.

      “When we did our concert in Eugene,” Brick says, of a performance in April, “there was a moment when one of our violists actually screamed out loud, he was so excited by the interaction between the audience and the orchestra. It prompted this five-minute sort of call and response, and I was just sitting there on the lectern waiting for them to have their moment. It was amazing.”

      There has been a small waft of disapproval from traditionalists who feel the concert hall is no place for something like a medley from Civilization 5, which happens to be receiving its debut as part of the program at the Orpheum on Monday. But the conductor is untroubled by the criticism. In gaming slang, these people would be considered “gimps”. “Whether we’re playing Super Mario Bros. or playing Stravinsky,” Brick argues, “you’re probably going to be moved. If we can just get them in the hall, that’s half the job.”

      Play! A Video Game Symphony is a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presentation at the Orpheum on Monday (December 6).