Tommy Tallarico catches air as a conductor leads the symphony through music from "Castlevania." (Paul Quitoriano)
Maybe you’ve never played a minute of “League of Legends,” “Prince of Persia” or “Final Fantasy,” yet you are able to hum along to the music that is the soundtrack to their epic quests and battles as soon as you hear it. This is thanks to talented video game composers like Tommy Tallarico. Video games have become a pop-culture fixture, and for the past nine years, Video Games Live – the video game celebration Tallarico created and is executive producer of – has entranced gamers and music aficionados alike with live performances of songs from beloved gaming titles.
As Tallarico prepares for this year’s event, taking place June 11 at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, he takes time to share a few words with Living Out Loud.
“I’ve been a video game composer for over 25 years. My goal in creating Video Games Live was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games have become. I didn’t want to just put on a symphony concert for hardcore gamers, I wanted to do a show. Not necessarily even a concert, but a complete celebration of the video game industry, and so the way we designed the show was with everyone in mind.
“To describe Video Games Live quickly: It’s all the greatest video game music of all time played by a full symphony and choir onstage. But what makes it really unique is that everything is completely synchronized – the music is synchronized with the big video screen, the rock ‘n’ roll lighting, the stage show production, special effects and interactive crowd elements. It’s all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert mixed together with interactivity, cutting edge visuals, technology and fun that video games provide.
“You don’t have to know a thing about video games in order to come out to the show and have a greater appreciation for video games in general and, specifically, game music. Most of the letters and emails we get after a performance are from non-gamers. Parallel to that, it’s also ushering in a whole new generation to come and appreciate a symphony. We’ll get letters from parents after the show telling us that they took their 8-year-old daughter to the show, and she wants to start taking violin lessons so she can learn and play the music in our show.
“The same thing happened to me over 30 years ago when I saw the Rocky and Star Wars movies. For the first time, I really paid attention to symphonic music, which in turn got me hooked on the masters like Beethoven and Mozart. I believe pop culture can have very positive influences on other (and more classic) forms of art. Video games are one of them. They have evolved into our culture and have become one of the top entertainments of choice for the 21st century.”
Living Out Loud: How long did it take for you to feel like you fully brought what you envisioned to life?
Tommy Tallarico: The very first show we ever did, which was the Hollywood Bowl in 2005. Everyone thought I was crazy, and that no one would ever show up, but over 11,000 people showed up on that first night. I wasn’t so crazy anymore.
LOL: When Video Games Live began to prosper and grow into the success its become, how did the positive response affect you in planning the subsequent tours?
TT: By 2006, the word was getting around to the symphonies that people loved the show. Once word started to spread, we kept getting more and more offers from around the world. By 2007, we were doing 50-plus shows a year.
LOL: Have there been any major obstacles to making Video Games Live a reality?
TT: When you’re trying to sell the show to non-gamers or people who have never heard of it, it’s really hard to explain because it’s so unique. There is so much to the show that it’s hard to capture in a bullet point or picture. Like Cirque [du Soleil], it’s one of those things that you really need to see in order to truly get the entire scope of what it is.
LOL: How many pieces are performed during the upcoming Video Games Live show at Nokia Theatre?
TT: We have 23 segments! Typically we do a two-and-a-half-hour show, but for L.A. we always go over the top because of all the special guests in town during the big E3 video game convention. So this year we have a three-hour show! It’s actually the biggest show we have ever done, in terms of special guests and world premieres. Here is a complete rundown of everything: www.videogameslive.com
LOL: I imagine a lot of time and team-effort goes into composing and transcribing the music, what is the typical process like for bringing these pieces to fruition?
TT: First I create the arrangement, then the click-track (so the orchestra can follow the exact tempo for synchronization), then I’ll start creating and editing the video, and finally I sit down with my lighting designer and we figure out the lights. Everything is completely synchronized and put into a computer. We also need to get the sheet music orchestrated, printed, etc. It’s a lot of work, and it typically takes me around two weeks to put a new piece together. We’ve created over 130 segments for the show over the past 13 years. I change the show every year!
LOL: Which scores in particular were the most complex to arrange for this show?
TT: “The Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved” segment is really complex because of all the real-time interactivity we’ll be pulling off, along with multiple solo performers on stage.
LOL: Do you have a favorite segment of the show?
TT: “Castlevania” and “Chrono Trigger/Cross” are probably my two favorites.
LOL: What has been the most gratifying experience you’ve had with Video Games Live – either as its creator, producer, composer or host?
TT: The fact that no matter where we go all throughout the world, people show up and recognize what we do as helping to move the game industry forward while we put on a complete celebration of the video game industry!
What: Video Games Live
Where: Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, 777 Chick Hearn Court, Los Angeles 90015
When: Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at 8 p.m.