Video games come alive in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

Video games come alive in Mesa

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Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2007 6:01 am | Updated: 5:30 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

East Valley electronic music buff Virginia Ikeda is doing what last year, at least, seemed impossible: She’s bringing a large-scale concert of orchestral video game music, dubbed “Video Games Live,” to Arizona.

The show — created by Jack Wall and Tommy Tellarico, a pair of Los Angeles video game composers who whipped up a multimedia show with a large symphony orchestra performing selections from Halo, Final Fantasy and other popular games — was a bombastic critical and commercial success when it debuted at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl in summer 2005.

Video game characters rappelling from the ceilings to battle with the conductor. Audience members brought up to play interactive Frogger with the symphony tracking along live.

A subsequent 18-city national tour of the effects-heavy spectacle, however, largely fell apart from weak advance ticket sales, the show’s creators said. That included two aborted attempts to play on Phoenix stages.

And then, a year ago, Scottsdale resident Ikeda, a percussionist and electronic music advocate, took a workshop in video game composing from Tellarico in Los Angeles.

She’d long been trying to put together a festival of electronic music at the Mesa Arts Center, in her family’s namesake 1,500-seat Ikeda Theater. She and Tellarico got to talking about “Video Games Live.”

“It was so close to the project I was planning to do,” says Ikeda. “I figured I can just produce this.”

Ikeda rented the Ikeda for Friday and Saturday nights, and hired the Mesa Symphony Orchestra to perform the show alongside a 50-member choir. It likely won’t be the same level of spectacle as that first Hollywood Bowl show, Ikeda admits — for one, the stage isn’t big enough for character gunbattles and the like — but it will still be a thrilling evening for both orchestral music fans and video game lovers alike.

“It’s just a wonderful show,” she says.

Unlikely savior

Ikeda’s an unlikely savior for a show that celebrates the power of the live orchestra.

After all, she’s a doomsday prophet for acoustic instruments.

“I believe in 20 to 30 years,” she says, “acoustic orchestras will be dead.”

It’s a little more nuanced than that, the synthesizer advocate explains: “Acoustic instruments will not vanish,” she says, “but will go the way of baroque instruments.”

Nevertheless, she says with a chuckle, “I’m not a friend to acoustic musicians.”

Yet after Ikeda attended a return “Video Games Live” performance at the Hollywood Bowl in September, she came away less certain of her prediction.

“The showcase is the orchestra,” she says. “I was astounded by how much the kids — and I mean kids from 10 to 21, who don’t have an ear for acoustic instrumentation — they were treating the musicians and the composers like rock stars. That’s astounding to me.”

Name that tune

Guillaume Grenier-Marmet, the Mesa Symphony’s executive director and a clarinetist for “Video Games Live,” rifles through the game titles atop his sheet music. Kingdom Hearts. Halo. Metal Gear Solid. Advent Rising.

“We’re looking forward to giving it a try,” he says.

If the Mesa orchestra, made up of community players, seems especially game to the challenge, that’s a stark contrast from the attitude of many symphonic groups tapped to perform shows of video game songs. Like orchestras performing “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” concerts hoping to court a popular audience, something about playing video game music carries a stigma among more highbrow classical musicians.

Principal musicians, “Live” creator Jack Wall says, sometimes refuse to show up. Or the musicians show up with the attitude, he says, of, “Ah, it’s just another night of work.” They’re blown away by the rock-concert atmosphere and the enthusiastic crowds.

“A lot of symphonies are having a hard time,” Wall told Get Out last year. “I think the reason they’re giving us a shot is a test: 'Let’s see if people come to see that orchestra.’ ”

Grenier-Marmet, for one, is hoping his group’s “Video Games Live” stint might translate into a new audience.

“Our audience is aging,” he says. “And we have to reach new audiences and teach them to be concertgoers. We shouldn’t expect them to all of a sudden change their minds and become symphonygoers. We have to go out and get them.”

With a joystick-powered plasma laser, if need be.

>> “Video Games Live” runs 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12, and Saturday, Jan. 13, at Mesa Arts Center, 1 E. Main St. $45-$55. (480) 644-6500 or mesaartscenter.com.

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