Video Game Orchestra Takes the Stage at Symphony Hall

  Phil Farnsworth
  Front row, from the left: Yohei Sato, Shota Nakama, Dan Carlin, Alan Silvestri, Keith Murray, Emir Cerman, Wataru Hokoyama, Simone Scazzocchio, and Lucas Vidal take bows after the leading the instrumentalists of Video Game Orchestra and Força Choir (back rows) at an April 1 concert in Boston's Symphony Hall.
  Alan Silvestri conducted the VGO in suites taken from his scores for the films Back to the Future and Forrest Gump.
  Phil Farnsworth
  Video Game Orchestra conductor Yohei Sato led the orchestra and Força Choir in scores from popular video games ranging from Super Mario Brothers to Chrono Cross.
  Phil Farnsworth
  From the left: Alan Silvestri, Doreen Ringer Ross (BMI's V.P. of film and TV relations), Pablo Gomez Trujillo, and Film Scoring Chair Dan Carlin. A film scoring major, Gomez was recognized for academic excellence during BMI @ Berklee Day, where Silvestri addressed students in a presentation hosted by Carlin in the Berklee Performance Center.
  Mark Small

A capacity crowd filled Boston's historic Symphony Hall for an ambitious April 1 orchestra concert of film and video-game music. The audience differed from that typically seen at the home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and brought the enthusiasm and energy of a rock show to the venerated venue. Titled Back to the Future: Two Generations of Film and Video Game Composers, the mercurial program of selections by veteran Hollywood composers and young game music composers was a rousing success.

The Video Game Orchestra (VGO) did yeoman's duty, performing for the entire three-hour concert. Founded by Shota Nakama '08 while he was a Berklee student, VGO has performed at numerous sold-out concerts, including a performance for 7,500 at the PAX East 2010 video game festival. Featuring 65 orchestral players, a rhythm section, and the 24-voice Força Choir, VGO filled the hall with dynamic music that was sometimes rhythmic and raucous and at other times whisper-soft and sublime.

The show opened with the 100 members of the group Rhythm of the Universe singing an orchestral world-pop song penned by Turkish composer Emir Cerman '10 from the film Rhythm of the Universe. From there, the audience was treated to film music selections composed by Lucas Vidal '06 ("March Madness"), Howard Shore '68 (Lord of the Rings Suite), Keith Murray '04 ("The Lion Fell in Love with the Lamb"), and Georges Delerue (music from Salvador and Steel Magnolias).

The concert coincided with a residency on campus by two-time Academy Award nominee and three-time Grammy winning film composer Alan Silvestri '70. Taking up the baton to close the first half, Silvestri brought the house down conducting a pair of instrumental suites drawn from his scores for Back to the Future and Forrest Gump. The cinematic sweep and rhythmic verve of Silvestri's beloved themes brought both the audience and the orchestra to their feet for a prolonged and vigorous standing ovation.

After intermission, the excitement level soared as VGO founder and guitarist Shota Nakama pumped up the crowd to hear music from the games Super Mario Brothers, Myst, Civilization IV, Afrika, Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, and Chrono Cross. VGO conductor Yohei Sato led the orchestra in a dynamic set that sounded at times like classical orchestral music featuring string, woodwind, and harp episodes, and at others like an aggressive rock band with orchestra.

Among the many highlights was a cameo appearance by composer Wataru Hokoyama to conduct music from his score to Afrika. The demanding piece put all the musicians through their paces with forceful brass interludes, vocalise sections sung by the choir, an introspective piano spotlight, and a thrashing rock climax.

The final selection, Chrono Cross Suite, began as a duet for nylon-string guitar and piccolo played by Nakama and flutist Burak Besir respectively. From there it morphed into a groove piece featuring concert mistress Julgi Kang standing as she played the melody and then soloed over a vamp.

Closing the show, Nakama offered his thanks to Film Scoring Chair Dan Carlin and his faculty members, Naoto Kubo '08 (orchestrator), Jose Delgado (director of the Força Choir), the guest conductors, musicians, and many others from the Berklee community for making the concert possible.

This concert of video game music was a first at Symphony Hall, but judging by the overwhelming audience reaction, this genre will continue to grow.