Toronto Symphony Orchestra Trades Classical Tunes for Video Game Scores

by doli89 | Jun 13, 2024

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) is breaking away from its classical roots this weekend by showcasing music from popular video games like “World of Warcraft” and “Assassin’s Creed.” This shift highlights the growing trend of presenting game soundtracks within a grand orchestral setting, often accompanied by visual elements like game footage and lighting effects.

This weekend’s TSO performance is part of the Game On! tour, which features music from 14 different video games, including “The Elder Scrolls” and “Bioshock.” The show, conducted by Andy Brick, aims to blend the immersive experience of video games with the auditory grandeur of an orchestra. Brick, originally from Chicago, carefully selects pieces that translate well to an orchestral format. He points to the expansive, Chopin-like piece “Cohen’s Masterpiece” from “Bioshock” as an example of a game soundtrack that naturally fits within an orchestral performance.

According to Brick, while some video game music is inherently symphonic, other tracks require significant reworking to fit the orchestral format. Video game music often features fragmented melodies designed to play at specific moments within the game, which can pose a challenge for a continuous concert experience. Brick emphasizes the importance of working with arrangers who can recreate the music in a linear, concert-friendly way. This meticulous approach ensures that the spirit of the original compositions is maintained, even when adapted for traditional symphonic instruments.

One standout piece in the concert is “Situation Critical” from the e-sports shooter “Overwatch.” Originally an electronic track by composer Derek Duke, Brick worked closely with Duke to adapt the piece for a symphony orchestra. This involved a detailed process where Brick documented every modification to ensure the integrity of the original composition was preserved.

The Game On! tour also includes music from other popular titles like “The Witcher 3,” “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” and “Guild Wars 2.” Brick notes that some of these pieces were easier to adapt due to their already symphonic nature.

Symphony Orchestras Embrace Video Game Music to Attract Diverse Audiences Post-Pandemic

This trend of integrating video game music into orchestral performances is not limited to Toronto. A similar concert is planned for Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra, featuring the “Final Fantasy” soundtrack composed by Nobuo Uematsu. This event, scheduled for January 2025, is expected to attract a diverse audience, reflecting the multi-generational appeal of video game music.

The increasing popularity of video game music concerts can also provide a financial boost for orchestras, which have faced challenges in regaining audiences post-pandemic. Carleton University musicologist James Deaville suggests that these concerts can help orchestras reach younger audiences, although he is skeptical about their impact on long-term season subscriptions.

The performing arts sector, significantly affected by pandemic restrictions, has been exploring various strategies to attract audiences back to concert halls. This includes diversifying their repertoire to include contemporary music and pieces by local composers. For example, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony had to cancel its 2023/2024 season due to financial difficulties, underscoring the importance of finding new ways to engage audiences.

In addition to the Game On! tour, other video game music concerts have been successful. “Stardew Valley: Festival of Seasons,” a tour based on the farming simulation game, featured new arrangements performed by a chamber orchestra with immersive visual elements. This concert sold out in multiple cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver, demonstrating the strong demand for this genre.

Gaetano Fazio, CEO of SOHO Live, the production company behind the Stardew Valley tour, highlights the community aspect of these concerts. Many attendees experience live orchestral music for the first time at these events, creating a sense of camaraderie among fans.

Brick believes that as video game music continues to evolve and mature, the collaboration between the gaming and symphonic worlds will deepen. He envisions a future where high-quality compositions from video games become a staple of orchestral performances, further blurring the lines between these two artistic realms.

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