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At the Concert Hall, a Symphony for Space Invaders

The average concertgoer might not expect to hear music from Super Mario Bros. at the local symphony hall — of if they did hear it, they might look around to see who smuggled in the Game Boy.

But that may be changing. A touring multimedia show that has already been seen by more than 100,000 people is playing at the world's finest concert halls — with the world's finest orchestras powering through some of the world's most popular video-game music.

And it's attracting a decidedly different audience. Take Josh Schwidel: He isn't the type you'd normally find seated in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. He's 11 years old, and he came to see Video Games Live with one of his friends. There's a costume contest, so naturally Josh came dressed as one of his favorite video-game characters.

"I'm Ness from the Super NES game Earthbound," says Josh, who's dressed in a striped shirt and baseball cap. "It's a game about crazy things; you attack hippies with baseball bats. I brought a baseball bat, but they wouldn't let me come in with it."

There were more than children and teenage gamers at Video Games Live. Christine, who didn't give her last name, was dragged along to the show by her kids. She was surprised by the diversity of the crowd.

"I've seen a lot of grandmas out there, and I'm like, 'What are they doing here?'" she says.

With all the costumes and the production values — the lasers and the stage fog and the video-game clips — it would be easy to mistake Video Games Live for a rock concert. (If you somehow managed to miss the full orchestra and chorus on stage, that is.)

But making the orchestra accessible to young people is all a part of the plan.

"It's ushering in a whole new generation of young people to come and see a symphony," explains Tommy Tallarico, a composer and one of the organizers of Video Games Live. "That's why it's so important to add all of the visuals and all of the interactivity and all of the fun. We're bringing fun back into the symphony."

But why video-game music? What makes it so compelling to these audiences? Tallarico says it has something to do with the experience gamers have while listening to the music.

"This is the reason why I say if Beethoven were alive today, he would be a video-game composer," Tallarico says. "He wouldn't be a film composer; that would bore the hell out of him. He'd be in video games. He was always cutting-edge, he was always ahead of the curve. His whole thing in music was to control the emotions of the person listening to it: He'd be a video-game composer."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Benjamin Frisch