Apparently, the best way to get 20-somethings to attend a symphony concert is to hit them where they live: video games.
A much-younger-than-usual crowd packed Bass Hall to capacity (about 2,000) on Saturday for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses — Master Quest, a multimedia presentation featuring the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra performing music from the popular “Zelda” series of games beneath a 15-by-28-foot screen displaying footage of the game in action.
But the crowd, which included several young women dressed as the title character, was not just young adults. Because “Zelda” games have been around for more than 30 years, many of the fans were with parents who had taught them how to play those games. The attachment to Zelda, and its music, runs that wide and that deep.
You may think of video game music as a series of electronic beeps and whistles, which even the Zelda music was in its early days, when video game technology could not do much in the way of reproducing traditional musical sounds. But the musical beds for these games have grown in sophistication, just as their visual aspects have. And the “Zelda” series has long been known for the scores that accompany its action-adventure video challenges, wherein the hero, Link, confronts a daunting series of geographical obstacles, evil villains and vicious monsters to rescue the title princess.
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The selections heard Saturday were full-blown, symphonic arrangements of pieces created for the various incarnations of the game over its long history, during which nine composers have contributed. Not surprisingly, the pieces arranged in two suites (one heard in each half of the concert) varied a great deal in tone and style. But the dominant approach featured sweeping lyrical elements over a driving, martial beat.
All supported the concert’s visuals — which ranged from the jerky, jagged-edged animation of the art form’s early days to the sleek, near-cinematic look of today’s games — exceedingly well. Most of the pieces sounded like they could have come from the score of some current high-quality, live-action, action-adventure film.
Indeed, one of the most impressive aspects of the composers’ efforts was that they play John Williams’ game without directly imitating him. The music always had a familiar feel (even though the composers are all Japanese, the music was decidedly Western in style, with Wagner being the most obvious influence), but it never felt recycled.
The audience seemed to relish every note and image in the presentation, with Ocarina of Time, Time of the Falling Rain and the concluding The Goddess’ Lyric being among the most well-received segments.
The Fort Worth Symphony, under the baton of guest conductor Kelly Corcoran, took the music seriously and answered the bell admirably, delivering lyrical sweetness and stomping brutality with equal elan in this special, one-night-only concert. Playing for the second time since the resolution of its recent labor dispute and strike, the orchestra was crisp, clean and robust.
But the players also embraced the fun side of the event, as evidenced by the Zelda-esque elfin ears and stocking cap sported by principal violist Laura Bruton, who also had a replica of a shield from the game propped against her chair.
The real musical star of the evening, however, was the 16-member Fort Worth Opera Chorus. The choir, which was used on most of the concert’s numbers, blended gorgeously with the symphony’s densely orchestrated efforts, and added a great deal of personality and atmosphere to the music.
The video screen was also employed to good effect. In addition to the video game footage (which was often dazzling as it provided a reminder of the music’s true purpose), it was also used to show brief introductions to a few of the pieces by some the games’ creators and composers. And, during performance, live shots of the orchestra were dropped in that often called attention to a significant individual contribution that might have been otherwise lost in the rich, instrumentally diverse works on the bill.
So it was a glorious night for fans of the games and their scores. And the music was strong enough to also entertain and impress even a non-gamer such as this critic. It is difficult to understand how all these princesses seem to get into so much trouble but, after this concert, it is hard not be glad that Zelda so frequently finds herself in a jam.