Video Games Brought to Life

Video-game music by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Washington mix with video and lighting effects in
Video-game music by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Washington mix with video and lighting effects in "Video Games Live." (Photos By Michele Lee Willson)
By Michael J. Toscano
Special to the Washington Post
Friday, June 29, 2007

The screen was grainy black-and-white. A fuzzy white ball drifted from one side to the other, chiming a satisfying "pong" as it bounced off skinny, player-controlled rectangles and reversed direction. And so Pong, the first popular video game, was introduced in 1972.

With the modern video game fully embedded in American culture, its journey is celebrated in an unusual synthesis of symphonic music, a 140-voice chorale and synchronized video and lighting effects in a show called "Video Games Live." It will be performed Friday and Saturday at the Kennedy Center by the National Symphony Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Washington in a concert designed for families.

"What better way to celebrate the games and prove to the world how legitimate an art form and how culturally significant video games have become than by a show that parents and their kids can enjoy, as well as people who don't know the first thing about video games?" said Tommy Tallarico, the concert's host and a video-game music composer. "It's the power of a symphony and choir, combined with the energy and excitement of a rock concert and the fun that video games provide."

Tallarico says video games have evolved significantly from those early bleeps and blips, graduating to complex scores that adapt well to symphonic presentation. The fusion of dramatic music, flashy video and sound effects, three-dimensional art, mesmerizing characters and story lines affected by player interactivity in modern games would be unrecognizable to early enthusiasts huddled around cumbersome consoles in arcades and bars.

"Video Games Live" will begin with an eight-minute tribute to the first generation of games, starting with Pong and ending with Tetris, before moving to soundtracks from blockbuster games, including Halo, Mario, Zelda, Warcraft, Metal Gear Solid, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Everquest II, God of War, Medal of Honor, Myst and Tron.

Video of game highlights, synchronized to the music and lighting effects, will appear on a massive screen. Audience members will be invited onstage to play video games, with the action displayed on-screen. The concert includes a contest for the best costumes worn by audience members, game demonstrations, prizes and game competitions in the hour before the concert. There will be a post-show meet-and-greet with game artists, including gaming legend Sid Meier (appearing Saturday), best known for Civilization. Tallarico said the concert is suitable for children as young as 6.

"I'm 39 years old and my generation was the first to grow up on video games, and we're a very visual audience," he said. "Older folks, or people unfamiliar with video games, never expect the music to be so emotional and powerful, or expect the visuals to be so incredible, or the story lines to be so compelling. And when we've done this in other cities, the symphony musicians have been completely astounded that they get treated like rock stars by a wildly enthusiastic audience for the very first time."

VIDEO GAMES LIVE Friday and Saturday at 8. National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW (Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU, with free shuttles). 202-467-4600. $25 to $45. There are pre-show activities in the Grand Foyer an hour before the concert, and concert participants will appear there after the performance. For more information about the show, visit

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