Mario Meets Mahler at Video Games Live, Tuesday at the Schermerhorn

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In the current issue of the Scene, Matt Fox wrote a Critics' Pick about the upcoming Video Games Live show at the Schermerhorn. Meanwhile, John Pitcher had an opportunity to speak with video game composer and VGL co-founder Tommy Tallarico:

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The Schermerhorn Symphony Center is about to be overrun by gods, warriors, heroes (of both the epic and guitar variety) and a pudgy Italian plumber who bounces like a Ping-Pong ball.

We’re talking, of course, about Video Games Live, a popular program that the Nashville Symphony and Chorus will present at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 4 at the Schermerhorn. The show is essentially a Wagnerian Bayreuth Festival for the digital age, one that replaces Nibelung dwarfs with orcs, trolls and, yeah, preternatural plumbers.

“This show features the sort of rich orchestral sound that you might hear at the opera, and adds to it the energy and visual effects of a rock concert,” says Tommy Tallarico, a guitarist and video game composer who co-founded the popular touring show in 2002.

If anything, Video Games Live shows how far arcade music has come since the early 1980s, when Pac-Man first went on his familiar feeding frenzies accompanied by little more than the sound of electronic blips and bleeps. Tuesday’s concert will feature an ensemble of Mahlerian proportions, with the full Nashville Symphony and Chorus performing, while scenes from such games as World of Warcraft, Zelda and Mario Bros. are projected onto a giant screen.

“Video games were combining the sort of lush orchestral music and stunning visual effects you see in Warcraft long before you saw it in movies like Avatar,” says Tallarico.

Born in 1968 in Springfield, Mass., Tallarico grew up in a musical family — his older cousin is Steven Victor Tallarico, aka Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Tallarico was just as enamored with rock as his cousin, but unlike Aerosmith’s lead singer, the younger Tallarico came of age just as video games and Star Wars were hitting the market.

“I was totally into rock guitar, but after I saw Star Wars I went down to the library and started looking up everything I could find about this composer named John Williams,” says Tallarico. “I was suddenly hooked on orchestra music.”

Eventually, Tallarico combined his interests in music and movie effects, becoming a video composer. Since the mid-’90s, he’s provided music to more than 250 games, including Earthworm Jim, Pac-Man World and Prince of Persia.

Next Tuesday’s concert will take place in a festive environment. There will be a costume and Guitar Hero contest in the Schermerhorn lobby before the performance. The Guitar Hero winner will get to perform with Tallarico and the Nashville Symphony.

“I’ve had lots of parents thank me for finally getting their kids to go to a symphony concert,” says Tallarico. “That’s been my greatest satisfaction.”

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