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Will video games save the live music business? Zelda may have the answer

Posted: 1:54 AM, Oct 14, 2015
Updated: 2015-10-14 01:54:43-04

BARCLAYS CENTER – They've evolved over time to where the graphics are quite realistic, the story lines are as compelling as any major motion picture, and anyone with the right console or app can interact with them along with other players across the globe.

Video games have not only become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, they're now being looked to as a means to help preserve another industry: commercial music.

A performance at Barclays Center Tuesday night was representative of this situation.  It may sound odd, but a concert of orchestral music composed for the long-popular video game series The Legend of Zelda may help to revive symphonic music.

There are a few melodies in classical music that most casual listeners can recognize and appreciate.  Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (think "da-da-da-DUM") and Carmina Burana by Carl Orff ("O, Fortuna!") immediately come to mind.

However, when it comes to seeing those pieces performed by a full symphony orchestra, a declining number of people would pay for it, according to box office receipts of the past two decades.

By contrast, at Barclays Center Tuesday afternoon, work crews set up thousands of chairs on the arena floor and lower bowl, in anticipation of yet another robust turnout.

While the arena was readied, and sound and audio engineers set their levels, a full orchestra rehearsed music that's most familiar to people who've played any of the various games in The Legend of Zelda series over the last three decades.

The Legend of Zelda Symphony Orchestra is  a touring company that does not play Brahams, or Mozart, or Beethoven or other classical composers.  It plays the score of the classic video game – four full movements of a symphony – over two and a half hours, with a half hour intermission in between.

"This may be the first time some in the audience have heard a live orchestra," said guest conductor Kelly Corcoran. "It's great music, and audiences deserve to hear it played by a live orchestra," she told PIX11 News.

To critics who may say that video game symphony performances cheapen classical music, it's worth considering that on its international tour, The Legend of Zelda has typically attracted larger audiences than most orchestras are able to fill on a good night.

The hope of some musicologists is that popular cultural orchestral performances can result in audience members gaining greater appreciation for wider genres of music.

"It'll  lead to Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et cetera," said Piruz Partow, executive director of the Brooklyn Music School.

Not only that, said the maestro at the helm of the 106 year-old institution, "If Mozart or Beethoven were alive today...  he or whatever composer would be writing for video games, and film scores, definitely."

Partow pointed out that many of the great classical symphonies were based on folk music melodies that the master composers had learned and subsequently arranged for orchestra.

The folk music of our time, according to Partow, is what's played through earbuds on smartphones or on game consoles in living rooms.  On Tuesday night, however, that music was played before thousands of people at Barclays Center.

"I want them to be blown away," said Corcoran, the conductor, "by the sound, color and power of a live orchestra."

The concert was one night only, but Zelda fans will get further opportunities to get off the couch and take in the performance next year.  In addition to performing its Barclays Center concert on Tuesday, The Legend of Zelda Symphony Orchestra announced its 2016 tour dates .

While next year's schedule does not include a New York venue, it is extensive. The most devoted Zelda fans are known to spend money and time on their obsession.  It's not out of the question that they'll fly or drive to Montreal, Chicago or Charlottesville to enjoy this performance again.

And there is no question that they spend money.  A recent analysis by the Wall Street Journal showed that Zelda concertgoers on average spent six times more on Zelda concessions than at a typical classical music concert.