Predictions on the demise of American orchestras are greatly exaggerated. They also ignore why so many of these grand organizations manage to stay healthy.
Classical musicians live to play the traditional scores of Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. But to survive, they’re embracing new and exotic themes, visuals, and instruments that beg the question: “Why not do something radically different?’’
The Florida Orchestra answers that question this weekend with the North American premiere of “rePlay: Symphony of Heroes,’’ a multimedia night of music from the realm of video games. “rePlay’’ features a suite of 15 short scores by film and video composers, with streaming visuals projected on screens behind the orchestra. The “movements’’ include music from games such as “The Legend of Zelda,’’ “Halo,’’ “The Elder Scrolls,” “Final Fantasy,” “God of War,” “Metal Gear Solid,” and “Bioshock.’’
Not that all of us know this stuff. But non-gamers shouldn’t worry about feeling marginalized, says Jason Michael Paul, the show’s producer, who will attend this weekend’s performance at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg. Paul’s “rePlay’’ tour continues throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
“The music is very compelling, and lends itself well to the visuals, so an older listener who knows nothing about video game entertainment can easily appreciate it,’’ he says by telephone from California. “The music is very rich and credible; it’s not Muzak. It’s in much the same vein as a film score by John Williams (“Jaws,’’ “Raiders of the Lost Ark,’’ “Schindler’s List’’).
Nor is the video idea far removed from a masterworks program the orchestra presented some years ago with Gustav Holst’s “The Planets’’ accompanied by cosmic visuals projected above the stage.
Paul says the idea of “rePlay’’ is to engage listeners, particularly families, with music that serves as a focal point for the art, animation, visual fidelity and technology of popular video games. Its theme is the typical video hero and his or her struggles in the fight against good and evil, global warming, or whatever keeps them up at night. To capture all the whiz-bang sounds of video games, the orchestra will augment its forces with such instruments as a thunder sheet, friction mallets, tom-tom, tam-tam, vibes, marimba, cabasa, glockenspiel, and a variety of gongs, chimes, and cymbals.
Some people might object to the orchestra moving so far left of its mainstream mission of honoring the great canon of classical music. But that’s precisely the point. For most American orchestras, performances at the box office aren’t keeping up, and young listeners need to buy seats if these nonprofit ensembles hope to thrive. This weekend’s fare, Paul says, is part of that development.
“It’s a sign of growth, a sign of acceptance, and a sign of the times,’’ he says. “Orchestras aren’t selling their souls by performing video game music. They’re embracing the world around them and accepting a part of a changing culture. This kind of programming is going to help extend the lifespan of orchestras because it’s giving a lot of young people their first exposure to an orchestra.’’