Review: Video Game Orchestra at Berklee


It’s a Thursday night, and the vestibule of the Berklee Performance Center is squirming with hopefuls trying to get into tonight’s way-sold-out show. A girl offering up a spare ticket sets off a grabbing frenzy. From the security guard’s perplexed crowd-control attempts, I get the impression that the BPC was not entirely prepared for this onslaught. Then again, this is not your typical Berklee recital — this is the Video Game Orchestra.

The nearly 90 student musicians — that includes a full orchestra, a rock band, and a chorus — of the VGO are packed like sardines on the BPC stage, scooched right up to the edge. Without fanfare, they launch into “Bombing Mission” from Final Fantasy VII, a piece that sets the tone of the evening: cinematic, stirring, and terribly earnest.

The sole sly wink of the program comes when VGO producer Shota Nakama leads the audience in a sing-along of the Sega loading-screen jingle before the orchestra plays the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 medley. Next up is a whirlwind composite of Donkey Kong Country done in vivacious big-band style. For me, this is like mainlining ’90s nostalgia.

“Now we have a most epic metal piece for you guys,” one VGOer announces. A snippet from God of War, it’s introduced by its composer, Gerard Marino. And lo, it is epic — pagan and fiery, with stentorian horns, doomy choir vocals, and brutal guitar shredding galore. I scan the crowd and catch a glimpse of Marino headbanging along to his creation. Behind him, a lone fist pumps.

The show serves up a parade of cameo appearances: Brothers in Arms composer Duncan Watt (“You people are a composer’s dream,” he gushes) followed by Keith Zizza (Caesar IV) and Video Games Live luminary Jack Wall (Myst), who jumps in as guest conductor. It all concludes with Final Fantasy VII’s “One-Winged Angel,” a bombastic number laden with shrieking strings and a chorus barking out the name of über-baddie Sephiroth; the piece ends to wild applause and a standing O. One thing is clear: next time, these kids need a bigger room.

"One-Winged Angel" from VGO's 2008 Concert at Church of the Covenant

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