For classical music aficionados, such composers as Ludwig van Beethoven, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Antonio Vivaldi are household names.
Junichi Masuda? Not so much.
But such aficionados are not the target demographic for the National Symphony Orchestra’s concert at Wolf Trap on Saturday night, in which the orchestra will perform the Japanese video-game designer, producer and composer’s theme music from the Pokemon video games, all against a giant screen featuring images from classic and recent versions of the game. Rather, the appeal of “Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions” is twofold: Youthful Pokemon fans will be drawn to the show’s game theme, while culturally minded parents may see it as an opportunity to introduce their kids to the symphony.
There’s another bonus for Mom and Dad, according to the show’s 38-year-old conductor, Susie Benchasil Seiter. “Parents love that they can take this opportunity to be seen as a hero to their kids,” she says.
And don’t be surprised if more than a few millennials show up, as has been the case at previous stops along the national tour, featuring a smorgasbord of America’s top orchestras. “Symphonic Evolutions” will run stateside through next February, before heading to Europe.
First introduced in Japan in 1996, the Pokemon game was a huge hit upon its 1998 release in the United States for Nintendo’s Game Boy device. And the 8-to 15-year-olds who first discovered it are now 25-to-32-year-olds. The same childhood nostalgia that fuels these young adults’ unreasonable affection for artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches should be enough to boost ticket sales.
Just listen to the enthusiastic review of last month’s “Symphonic Evolutions” show at Madison Square Garden with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. One anonymous 27-year-old Pokemon fan posted on the Brightest Young Things Web site: “I even got emotional at one point (like, tears welled up during ‘Ecruteak City’ and I am not even kidding).”
That, as Pokemon spokesman J.C. Smith explained, is merely one of the places that players can visit while using the games. (Opelucid City and Cerulean City are others.) Each location has a theme song, Smith continues, readily identifiable to any player.
“It’s not unlike a movie that you play for 40-plus hours,” says Smith, who has a theory about why these songs might be so deeply ingrained in players’ memories. “The music becomes a part of what you dream at night.”
Of course, “music” on a classic Game Boy sounded like a bunch of electronic beeps and squawks — a function, Smith says, of the storage limitations of that era’s technology. As fleshed out by Seiter — an orchestrator of films and television shows whose credits include the new animated feature “Minions” — the early music takes on a richer, fuller body, with strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion lending a sense of drama.
“Sonically, there’s everything here,” Seiter says. “It’s all over the map — soaring, gentle.”
Such pop-cultural crossover is nothing new for the NSO, which has a tradition of reaching out to audiences and whose shows in recent months have included musical accompaniments to Bugs Bunny cartoons and the movie “Back to the Future”; a Valentine’s Day collaboration with “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane crooning such American Songbook standards as “Face to Face”; and an EchoStage concert with hip-hop artists including Christylez Bacon.
Because the audience for “Pokemon Evolutions” skews both young and inexperienced, Seiter cautions that curious patrons should be prepared for cheering and other interruptions not normally found at other NSO shows. “Not everyone is a normal, regular symphony-goer,” she says, adding that she welcomes a bit of anarchic energy, even warning the orchestra members beforehand. “It can get noisy, I tell them. It can be distracting. But it’s also really fun. I remember we had to start over once because not everyone in the orchestra could hear each other.”
It is all part of the NSO’s larger effort to bring symphonic music to new audiences, says Justin Ellis, the symphony’s artistic administrator who booked “Symphonic Evolutions.” “It’s about reaching out,” says Ellis, a 27-year-old former Pokemon player who describes himself as the concert’s “prime demo.”
“It’s not like the NSO is thinking, ‘We’re going to get you with Pokemon, and then you’re going to love Beethoven,” Ellis says. “But if we never did anything new, we would never have had Mahler and Mozart.”
Wolf Trap, 1551 Trap Rd., Vienna. 703-255-1868. www.wolftrap.org.
Dates: Saturday at 8:30 p.m.