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Blizzard Hits Houston During Summer

August 17, 2009

Blizzard Hits Houston During Summer
by
Alex Van Zelfden

In advance to BlizzCon, Video Games Live’s recent stop in Houston played a special concert of Blizzard favorites with their largest orchestra and choir yet.  Take a look at the show and get the scoop on where Starcraft II’s music was recently recorded.

For just over four years now, Video Games Live has been known for performing music from video games in concert with live orchestras and choirs around the world.  Captivating audiences with synchronized lights and video accompanying the music of everything from Sonic the Hedgehog to God of War, the show has become a phenomenon that has staged well over a hundred concerts across five continents and even launched an album that made it to the top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Not content to rest on their laurels, however, the creators of the show have added new segments and updated old ones since the beginning in an attempt to make each stop on the tour a unique experience.  The biggest innovation has been to design a sort of spin-off concert of nothing but music from the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo franchises, the result of which has become a staple at Blizzard’s worldwide invitational events and BlizzCon since 2007.
 

For the past two years these Blizzard concerts have been a treat reserved for convention attendees, but that all changed this past weekend when the tour arrived in Houston, Texas for an extraordinary double feature dubbed Gamer MusiCON ’09.

Did Anyone Feel a Chill Just Then?

The show started mid-afternoon on Saturday the 18th with a collection of Blizzard favorites ranging from a piano medley of Warcraft II themes to music from the upcoming Starcraft II featuring the full might of the Houston Symphony and Chorus.  Despite the distance from the company’s base in Anaheim, there were a few Blizzard representatives to introduce some of the pieces, including Audio Director and Composer Russell Brower.  Cinematics Lead Producer Scott Abeyta even joined the orchestra on guitar for the Diablo and Diablo II segment.

Composer Neal Acree was also on hand to say a few words before the concert premiere of his music from the opening cinematic of Wrath of the Lich King.  And though they weren’t able to attend in person, composer Jason Hayes and his wife Tiffany (whose voice work is heard throughout Starcraft and other titles) did a live video interview much to the delight of the audience.

After the rousing finale of tavern music from World of Warcraft and a brief intermission, host Tommy Tallarico moderated an insightful onstage Q&A with the three guests, getting them to talk about their backgrounds and work, and eventually opening the discussion to the audience.   Interestingly, during the course of the talk it was revealed that with the “imminent” release of update 3.2 for World of Warcraft, the total amount of music will soon reach a staggering 27 hours thanks to the latest contributions by composer David Arkenstone.  Perhaps more exciting was news that key themes from Starcraft II were recently recorded by the Skywalker Symphony Orchestra for the upcoming game.  The ensemble was chosen in particular to lend the game a strong cinematic flavor and, according to Brower, it succeeded wonderfully.

With time to spare before the next leg of the concert, the Video Games Live crew – host Tommy Tallarico, conductor Jack Wall, and “Video Game Pianist” Martin Leung – held their own Q&A with the audience.  Among the interesting bits of information – you probably didn’t know the VGL logo started life as a possible design for the Game Audio Network Guild – came news that the show has a number of new segments in the works including music from fan favorite Shadow of the Colossus and Silent Hill, among others.  Also revealed was the latest interactive segment that will let the audience play Donkey Kong while the orchestra matches the music to the action.  Details were scarce on how that would work, but it sounds intriguing.

No Business Like Show Business

 From there, the evening proceeded much like any other Video Games Live concert with the audience milling about the lobby playing console games provided by Game Crazy or chatting with friends before the inevitable costume contest followed by the opening music of the “Arcade Medley” that cleverly starts each VGL concert off with a collection of classics from Pong to Frogger.   Next came the always brilliant Metal Gear Solid theme, a collection of Final Fantasy themes arranged for piano, and the comic Space Invaders segment that features a member of the audience running back and forth on stage to control the ship while the orchestra matches the action.

Taking a break from the music for a moment, there was a short 1960s film of Ralph Baer demonstrating his Ping Pong game in all its primitive glory.  And then before the audience knew what was happening, Tallarico connected to the present-day Ralph Baer through Skype video and conducted a brief interview with the father of video games himself.  Though rather unexpected for a concert, it was a fascinating connection with living history.  And quickly enough it was back to the music with tributes to Mass Effect, Metroid, and the Legend of Zelda to finish out the first half of the show.

Coming back from the intermission, things started back up again with Kingdom Hearts, and then music from Super Mario Bros., followed by Martin Leung doing his trademark medley from the franchise on piano while blindfolded – for the first time in concert including the blisteringly fast Super Mario World music while still blindfolded.   After the deservedly thunderous applause, the audience was given the chance to shout out requests, to which Leung responded with spirited excerpts of the ever-popular Monkey Island theme and Tetris.

Next came one of the newest additions to the show with music from Mega Man, followed by a Guitar Hero: Aerosmith segment that featured an audience member accompanied by the orchestra and choir blowing away “Sweet Emotion” on Expert difficulty in order to win a laptop.  Entering the home stretch, Halo 3: ODST made its appearance followed by a suite from the Halo franchise, with “One-Winged Angel” from Final Fantasy VII finally closing out an incredible day of music.

And the Beat Goes On

Of course it wouldn’t be Video Games Live without at least one encore, and the wild enthusiasm from the audience earned two more pieces in this case.  The first was the Castlevania segment featuring Tallarico on electric guitar and Leung handling the pipe organ parts on keyboard.  And then at long last came the new Chrono Cross/Chrono Trigger segment that had been the show’s most requested music since the early days of the tour.  With Wall and Tallarico both on acoustic guitar backed by the orchestra, it made a fitting end to the show.

And what a remarkable show it was too.  With over 140 world-class musicians in the orchestra and choir – Tallarico stated this to be the largest game concert ever – and over three and a half hours of some of the best game music ever written, it would be impossible to go wrong.  Add to that the fascinating onstage interviews with the people behind the music, not to mention the excitement of a world premiere for the Wrath of the Lich King, and you have an event that’s going to be remembered for a long time.  Now just let’s see them top this one.

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