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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Unlikely sounds fill Jones Hall

One rarely goes to the symphony expecting to witness a person go stark raving mad at the sight of Zelda or Mario, nor does one expect someone to show up at the amphitheater fully clad in the costume of their favorite video game character. But this sort of behavior was in full swing Friday night, as video game lovers and symphony enthusiasts alike gathered for Video Games Live, a laid-back event that featured an array of some of the most popular video game arrangements as performed by the Houston Symphony and Chorus at Jones Hall.

The event, created by host Tommy Tallarico and conductor Jack Wall, is intended to break down the barriers of live symphonic music and the gaming realm, allowing fine arts and gaming to be combined in one eventful night.

Exclusive video game footage, synchronized lighting that bounced off of the walls and solo performances accompanied the music, along with an interactive segment in which two members of Friday night’s audience were selected to play a game of Frogger for a $2,500 laptop. The Houston Symphony provided the music as they followed the players’ Frogger games in real-time.

The live arrangements, spanning from the dark tones of Jade Empire and the whimsical sounds of Kingdom Hearts – a Walt Disney themed role playing game – to the nostalgic Super Mario Bros., were undoubtedly the best parts of the evening.

The piece for the Super Mario Bros. theme songs began at Level 1-1 as the woodwinds and brass provided the familiar tune with the trumpets yielding the swingy-jazz overtones. The strings played slow, soft legato as the snare drum added in a steady foundation for the underwater world, while the underground dungeon level remained rather tuba heavy.

Video game pianist Martin Leung, a 20-year-old prodigy, rendered a solo performance of Super Mario Bros. at an alarmingly fast tempo while blindfolded, and he didn’t seem to miss a beat. He came out for a second, seemingly effortless solo, performing the theme song for Super Mario World as his fingers danced even faster over the keys.

The deep, rich sound of the symphony cellos flourished alongside the adventurous scenes of Final Fantasy for the succinct yet powerful arrangement composed by Koj Kuano that also featured light strings and woodwinds.

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess’ fast-paced and fierce fight scenes of slaying dragons proved to be a nice juxtaposition from the soft, drawn-out notes of the game’s scenic landscape overviews. The symphony weaved in and out of the two equally energetic parts effortlessly, making for a truly dynamic piece.

The voices of the chorus ascended above the symphony and added a unique light to Twilight Princess while images of a soaring overview of the landscape of the games played on the screen.

The dark and sinister sounds of Jade Empire, composed by Wall, correlated with the game’s underwater scenes while the battlefield scenes were illustrated with intense trumpeting that soared over the symphony, coupled with climactic bowing contributed by the violins and violas.

Advent Explosions had chilling images of cities and planets being destroyed by meteorites projected across the screen. The unsettling moments in the game flowed with the music. The tension was amplified in the arrangement as the strings played increasingly faster with each blow to the city or planet while deeper and richer notes were drawn from the strings as the violins and basses were hard at work.

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