Game Music

A Game Music Concert With Heart: The Golden State Pops Orchestra’s Videogame Soundtracks

May 19, 2009 | | 11 Comments Share thison Facebook A Game Music Concert With Heart: The Golden State Pops Orchestra’s Videogame Soundtrackson Twitter

Let’s be honest. When you hear the words “videogame music concert,” you undoubtedly think of large touring concerts like Video Games Live and PLAY! A Videogame Symphony. However, we’ve been seeing more and more local productions cropping up, which I hope is a sign that the popularity of game music is on the rise.

I actually had never heard of the Videogame Soundtracks concert that took place two years ago in the unassuming city of San Pedro, just outside of Los Angeles, and I would have also missed their second run this past Saturday, May 16, 2009, if it hadn’t been for a Facebook invitation from one of the composers that was attending as a special guest. I’m glad I did attend, however, and I’m here to tell you that you should probably do the same if they come back for round three next year. Not only are you going to hear music that has never been performed live in front of an audience before, but you’re also in for a passionate performance from a wonderful orchestra in a lovely little venue that you would have never guessed existed by looking at it from the street front.

Find out what was played, who was there, and why you should be there next time in our review of the Golden State Pops Orchestra’s “Videogame Soundtracks” concert after the jump.

As I mentioned, the set list here features some pieces that you’ve never heard in Video Games Live or PLAY! A Videogame Symphony, and likely won’t hear eleswhere. The set list for the evening was as follows:

1. Advent Rising – “Bounty Hunter”
2. AFRIKA – “Main Theme”
3. Red Faction Guerilla – “Red Faction Guerilla Suite”
4. Untold Legends : Dark Kingdom – “O’er Thai Landis”
5. God of War II / Guitar Hero III – “The End Begins (To Rock)”
6. Civilization IV – “Baba Yetu”
7. Warhawk – “Main Title”
8. Gun – “Gun Suite”
9. Final Fantasy series – “The Oath” and “Aeris’ Theme”
10. flOw – “The World of flOw”
11. AFRIKA – “Savanna”
12. World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King – “Main Title”

A short but awesome list of songs to be sure. I was particularly surprised to see some VGL standards making an appearance, including one of my favorite bits from the tour, “Baba Yetu” from Civilization IV. It was also cool to get a preview of the Red Faction Guerilla theme given that the game won’t be out until June, and the inclusion of Wataru Hokoyama’s impressive work on AFRIKA along with the work of Christopher Lennertz had me excited as well. And to top off this great list of songs, the composers themselves were invited to the stage to conduct their own music in many cases, which is something you don’t see often and was an absolute treat to see.

But before the show was to begin, Blizzard’s Russell Brower and Laura Karpman took the the stage for a brief Q&A with Golden State Pops Orchestra Maestro Steven Allen Fox, whose appreciation for game music was apparent through his enthusiasm throughout the evening. The questions involved the process of writing music for games, and where the two on stage thought music in games was headed.

From there, the music of Advent Rising kicked things off, and I’ll admit that without the video accompaniment that we usually see at VGL, I found myself enjoying Tommy Tallarico’s music even more. Wataru Hokoyama then took to the stage for one of the best performances of the evening, conducting the upbeat and majestic “Main Theme” from AFRIKA. Hokoyama’s fluid and graceful movements on the conductor’s podium were as impressive as the music, and he was visibly pleased with the quality of the Golden State Pops Orchestra.

Wataru Hokoyama charges up during rehearsal (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

Timothy Wynn took to the stage next for the Red Faction Guerilla Suite. This is an amazingly dark and brooding piece of music that I recently heard in the game’s demo, but it sounded even more rich and emmersive when performed live. This was followed by another minimalistic track, this time by Laura Karpman, with vocals written in a lost Scottish dialect from the 15th century called Middle Scots. The seemingly chaotic whir of sound stood out among the rest of the evening’s tangible melodies, and I enjoyed the otherworldly quality of the piece.

Timothy Wynn gets his groove on during rehearsal (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

Next up, Gerard Marino led the orchestra and choir through the Guitar Hero III adaption of his God of War II track, “The End Begins” (complicated, yes?). It featured video of the guitar portion of the song along with somebody’s near-perfect play-through of the track while Gerard led the orchestra and choir through the non-guitar portions. This was definitely one of the coolest ideas of the evening, although there were some guitar solos where Gerard kind of awkwardly conducted the pre-recorded video while waiting for the choral and orchestral sections to come back into the mix. He was a good sport, however, turning to the crowd and getting them fired up during the piece.

Gerard Marino joins the choir during rehearsal (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

The first set ended with “Baba Yetu” from Civilization IV, and while this is one of my favorite segments from Video Games Live, I’d say Videogame Soundtracks did an even better job with it by maintaining the vocal soloisits levels above the rest of the choir and orchestra, highlighting what is meant to be one of the featured elements of the piece.

Christopher Tin high-fives the orchestra (not really) (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

After the intermission, Christopher Lennertz took to the stage, instinctively reaching for the microphone to talk to the audience despite his wife’s pleas to leave the microphone alone. His “Main Title” from Warhawk featured lots of airy bells along with a majestic brass section, while his music from Gun was spot on with the old West vibe, complete with twangy guitars and a fiddle performance.

Christopher Lennertz doesn’t remember writing this! (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

No game music concert is complete without the music from Final Fantasy, and I was happy to see the inclusion of “The Oath,” which is often left out even at Final Fantasy-centric concerts (although by now, I think I’d be happy with anything that wasn’t “One Winged Angel”). This suite of sorts was arranged by Steven Allen Fox himself, and I was quite fond of his arrangement of “The Oath,” which ditched the heavy use of brass in favor of strings, giving it a lighter tone. By the same token, however, “Aeris’ Theme” felt a little empty without some of the other sections, although I can’t pinpoint exactly what was lacking.

Next up, Austin Wintory took to the stage, also taking an opportunity to speak to the audience about his work on the title. He got some laughs from the crowd by explaining that while most games are about, “Killing this, blowing this up, running this guy over then blowing them up,” flOw was more abstract and relaxing. He also noted that the original score was completely electronic, so it was a challenge and a pleasure to create an orchestral arrangement. I really dug this new approach that worked in layers of harp, bells, and string swells on an experimental stop-and-go journey through the depths of Wintory’s mind.

Austin Wintory fearful of the power of the orchestra (photo couresty of Christopher Tin)

With the end quickly approaching, Hokoyama took to the stage once more for “Savanna” from AFRIKA, a beautiful lullaby-esque piece of music with ethnic percussion. Lastly, the epic “Main Theme” from Wrath of the Lich King was performed in all of its 9+ minute glory, closing the evening on an epic note.

I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed this concert. The venue was stunning, the orchestra was spot on, and the list of songs and guests was enough to satisfy any game music fan. While I love Video Games Live and PLAY! A Videogame Symphony, I came to realize after this show just how complacent I had become hearing the same arrangements performed each year, and I absolutely loved hearing all of these new arrangements that in most cases hadn’t been performed anywhere in public before. That’s not to say VGL and PLAY! are doing it wrong—as touring acts, they have to play the standards as they’re performing for an new audience each and every time—but there’s a lot that can be said for variety!

If these guys put on another show next year, I recommend heading to San Pedro to check it out. In the meantime, you can check out the Golden State Pops Orchestra any time throughout the year (they’re performing the music of John Williams next month), so get out there and support the orchestras who are putting these things on!

Which pieces from Videogame Soundtracks do you wish you could hear at a concert near you? If they were to put on another show next year, would you consider making the trip out to see it?

[Photos courtesy of Christopher Tin]

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