Video Games Live creator on the Mesa Arts Center and the future of pops

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Tommy Tallarico, VGL creatorVideo Games Live creator Tommy Tallarico says the Mesa Arts Center –– which played host to VGL for two shows in January 2007 — is a perfect venue for the interactive show because of its blend of the traditional and the advanced. “It’s a great mix of kind of a classic theater yet with kind of new age … It’s just what our show is: We take the traditional and combine it with the new stuff.”

A musician who plays the electric guitar and piano, the Springfield, Mass.-born Tallarico has composed scores for hundreds of video games, including Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. He’s also the cousin of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, so he knows how to put on a show, as you’ll see when VGL begins at 7:30 p.m. April 7 in the MAC’s Ikeda Theater.

Launched in 2005, Video Games Live’s an interactive pops concert that goes beyond the bleeps and bloops of classic video games and explores the latest symphonic soundtracks — and everything in between.

“I really wanted to create a show for everybody, not just hardcore gamers or people who attend a symphony,” Tallarico said. “The goal was to use all of the different things that video games offer — unique music, amazing visuals and graphics, interactivity, storyline, gameplay — in a hybrid form of performance. So that even if you don’t play video games, you walk away with a greater understanding and appreciation of what video games are.”

People who have seen VGL before, either live or on DVD/Blu-ray or the summer screening on PBS, are in for a completely new experience in Mesa this time.

“We’ve added more screens, HD cameras, lights, special effects” over the years, Tallarico said. “But really I’d say the biggest change and the one most important thing about Video Games Live is this show is going to be completely different from what people have seen before.” He said that with the exception of “one or two old favorites,” most of the setlist and special guests are completely new. “There’s so much great content out there it’s always easy to make a setlist that’s dynamic and is exciting,” Tallarico said.

He said tech-savvy pops performances are part of a shift by symphonies that recognize, as many churches do, a need to adapt if they want to maintain or grow their audiences.

Video Games Live in Paris (Tommy Tallarico)“I think what symphonies across the world, and especially America, are seeing is they’re having trouble bringing in a younger audience. They’re getting a little lost,” he said. “If you think about it and go back a couple hundred years, a bunch of composers got together and said ‘Let’s shake it up, tell a story through vocals. Sets. Opera.’ And that was a pretty crazy idea back then.

“It’s almost like shows like ours and Star Wars (in Concert) … are using all of the things that my generation and others’ grew up on: Video games, Star Wars, rock ‘n’ roll concert lights, computers in our daily lives. I’ve just taken all of the things that we’re used to and combined it with a traditional symphony. What makes it really special and unique is everything is completely synchronized.”

Tallarico said it was never the intention of the great composers for their music to be heard only by old people in tuxedos.

“If Tchaikovsky were alive today, he’d be a video game composer.”

Read the second part of my interview with Video Games Live creator Tommy Tallarico.

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