If you haven’t heard video-game tunes since your kids outgrew Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros., you may not realize that the game industry has created a new worldwide demand for classical music composers, arrangers and musicians.
Fans of the Final Fantasy, the role-playing video game series launched in 1987, will flock to Tilles Center Friday night for a pair of concerts of music composed for games but influenced by the likes of Béla Bartók, Debussy and Mozart.
The Long Island premiere of “A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy” is performed by the 11-piece New World Players on a tour that pauses after Sunday’s stop in Hartford, Connecticut. It resumes in time for the September release of the next Final Fantasy game.
Eric Roth, who arranged the music for concert formats with his father, Arnie, will conduct the ensemble featuring piano soloist Benyamin Nuss. The first recording by Nuss was a tribute to composer Nobuo Uematsu, who wrote most of the music for Final Fantasy and is known among aficionados as “the Beethoven of video games.”
“We change the form a little bit for live concerts,” Eric Roth says of his arrangement of “A New World” (his father arranged the earlier “Distant World” adaptation). “But we try to stay faithful to the source.” Rearranging for concert play is necessary because, in game play, music is looped according to the characters and situations the player initiates. Segments range from light background music, as in a movie soundtrack, to emotionally charged character themes and situational leitmotifs.
“The beauty of these games — visual and sonic — are part of their attraction,” says Roth. “There’s a deep connection among many fans of these games.” To tap into this communal feeling, Roth invites audiences to join along in singing to “One-Winged Angel,” a popular track among two dozen Final Fantasy albums. There have even been on-bended-knee proposals at the live concerts, he says.
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Kate Remington, music director and morning classical music host of Connecticut’s WSHU-FM (found on Long Island across the FM dial), interviewed the Roths as part of her “Respawn: New Life for Classical Music in Video Games” series. (Respawning is returning to play after your game character dies.) An avid player herself — she’s partial to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, about to celebrate its 20th anniversary with an upcoming orchestral suite — Remington says, “It’s important for people to know that this music has gotten really sophisticated. So much so that today, composers are involved as much as the developers of the games. This has opened a whole new market for great music.” She notes that leading conservatories, such as Boston’s Berklee School of Music, now offer courses in video-game composition.
Music from another game, Journey, will be performed at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust on July 8, interactively accompanying live game players. The musicians follow by flipping through iPads for the appropriate tune.
“Video-game music is an adventure,” says Roth.