Hi! I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips. These are the times that try our musical souls, with live concerts enduring an avalanche of cancelations and postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For our community as game music composers and game audio pros, this means that most video game concert tours have gone silent. As one of the composers whose work was featured in the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, I was honored to join the players onstage during the Montreal performance last year (pictured below). It was a thrill to have my music from Assassin’s Creed Liberation performed in Berlin, Milan, and all around the world.
Now, I’ve sadly watched as the coronavirus postponed the entire UK leg of the tour, with no resumption date as of yet. This fate is common to live concert events around the world.
While we all have reason to be sad about this, there is some light in the darkness. A few touring companies and orchestras have nimbly shifted to online live-streaming events as a way to sustain their fan bases and keep enthusiasm alive through the Covid-19 pandemic. Other video game music shows are holding things together while continuing to sell tickets, with optimistic plans to resume their in-person tours later in 2021. As both game audio pros and game music fans, we all want to enjoy and support this music, so let’s check out what’s happening this year in the world of VGM concerts! We’ll start by taking a look at those organizations that have moved their concerts online with live-streamed events. After that, we’ll check out the concert tours that are still selling tickets with hopes to return to their stages sometime later this year.
The 8-Bit Big Band Live Stream
Ever dreamed that you could hear your favorite video game tunes reimagined by an awesome old-school jazz big band? The 8-Bit Big Band has been making these dreams come true since they released their first album in 2018. Located in New York City, this jazz force-of-nature is set to appear in a live show on Saturday May 1st 2021, in which they’ll perform their greatest hits at Sony Hall in NYC. While the venue isn’t selling tickets for in-person attendees, the show will be live-streamed (with tickets available for online audience members.) As an example of what to expect during the performance, here’s one of their most recent YouTube uploads featuring their Sinatra-style cover performance of “Want You Gone” from Portal 2:
At their charmingly retro website, the 8-Bit Big Band has provided loads of free goodies for fans, including downloadable sheet music and lots of Spotify playlists. For those of us who want to give back, the site offers merch that supports the band and simultaneously donates half the proceeds to Meals 4 Heroes (providing meals from local restaurants to New York City medical professionals.)
Game Music Festival
Every year, the Game Music Festival gathers together top composers, great musicians and game music fans for a two-day festival of live concerts, masterclass workshops, Q&A sessions, and community events taking place at the National Forum of Music in Krakow Poland. This year, the event was forced to scale back attendance sharply, in keeping with Covid-19 regulations. Nevertheless, the Game Music Festival organization managed to avoid cancelation with careful planning and strict safety protocols.
As a part of this reimagined festival, both nights of concert performances were live-streamed free to the public, and afterwards the recordings were made available online. Here’s the entire live-stream of the second night of performances (the concert begins 27 minutes into the recording):
To enable fans to watch the first night of performances, the Game Music Festival also uploaded the video of that full-length concert to YouTube. For those of us who would like to financially support the Game Music Festival (and receive some bonus goodies as a reward), the Game Music Festival has pulled together a collection of digital soundtracks, posters and video files to show their gratitude. Check it out here.
The Game Music Ensemble at UCLA
Founded in 2014 at the University of California in Los Angeles, the Game Music Ensemble at UCLA maintains orchestra, chamber and choir ensembles dedicated to the performance of video game music. Their talented student members mount large-scale concerts semi-annually, interspersed with chamber performances throughout the year.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the organization has moved much of its operations online, including some live-streamed chamber music performances. In addition, the Game Music Ensemble has begun to release full-length concert videos from previous seasons via its YouTube channel. Here’s a video from their current YouTube series spotlighting their Legend of Zelda: The History of Hyrule concert from February 2019:
Other videos in this Legend of Zelda series feature performances from Temple of Time, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess, and Breath of the Wild. For those of us who would like to give back, the official web site has provided a page for those who want to help support the Game Music Ensemble at UCLA.
The United States Army Field Band Virtual Concert Series
Headquartered in Maryland and founded as a public service organization, the United States Army Field Band responded quickly to the Covid-19 pandemic by launching a series of interactive online performances that began last March. The music in this virtual concert series includes a wide range of musical styles, from Broadway to Beethoven to Bebop, performed by expert musicians-in-uniform. Among these offerings, the Army Field Band has managed to slip in a few concerts of music “for the video game generation.” These have included a jam session with a Guitar Heroes theme, a livestream dedicated to Super Mario Bros, and a more wide-ranging performance of the best of video game music in general. As a rule, all performances by the “Musical Ambassadors of the Army” must be offered free of charge to the public. Here’s an excerpt from one of their video game themed livestreams:
The streaming schedule of upcoming programming from the Army Field Band is available here. If you’d like to hear more, their latest album is entitled The Soundtrack of the American Soldier, and includes a suite of music from the video game Medal of Honor.
Taken all together, the WDR Symphony Orchestra, the WDR Radio Choir, the WDR Big Band, and the WDR Funkhaus Orchestra are among the most renowned musical ensembles in Germany. These ensembles mount hundreds of live concerts a year, along with approximately a hundred broadcast performances for WDR radio and television. Each ensemble has its own specialization, and the WDR Funkhaus Orchestra embraces audience favorites – serving as the equivalent of a beloved Pops orchestra for the German concert-going public. After the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WDR Funkhaus Orchestra cancelled its live performances and took its concert schedule online in live-steams simulcast via WDR 3 radio. This included their Gaming Sounds concert, which took place on November 20th 2020 in Cologne with a live-stream event. Afterwards, they generously posted full-length videos of the performances from the event, including the Victoria 2 Concert Suite, The Seventh Whistler (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), An Early Harvest (Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), The Main Theme from The Lion’s Song, The Allies Main Theme from Hearts of Iron 4, Nascence/Apotheosis from Journey, Delphinus Delphis from Abzu, the Tetris Theme, and the Main Theme from Angry Birds:
Now we’ve taken a look at some of what’s happening with live-streaming concerts in the world of video game music. So let’s move on to those concert tours that are still planning to mount traditional performances later in the year…. and let’s keep our fingers crossed that all goes well!
IN-PERSON CONCERT EVENTS
Final Fantasy VII Remake Orchestra World Tour
This concert tour was struck down by incredibly unlucky timing. Set to begin concurrently with the world-wide launch of the hotly-anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake game, this orchestral tour had a whole calendar of performances scheduled around the world, starting with a glittering Los Angeles premiere on June 14th 2020 at the Microsoft Theater. And then the Covid-19 pandemic happened, and everything was called off. The organizers subsequently announced an even larger and more ambitious schedule of performances for 2021, beginning in February with a premiere in Tokyo. However, on January 15th, the Tokyo premiere was canceled outright, and the following two concert dates in Osaka are on precarious ground, with the organizers “carefully considering the situation.” Unfortunately, their previously-announced Spring 2021 tour dates at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Paris’ Palais Des Congres are already sold out (making cancelation much more complicated). We hope that this concert tour is able to regroup and relaunch itself when it becomes safe to do so.
The tour is scheduled to include music from the Final Fantasy VII Remake game performed by an orchestra and chorus of over a hundred musicians led by conductor Arnie Roth. Since there have as yet been no performances or trailers to announce the tour, the best we can do is imagine what these performances might be like. In the meantime, our imaginations might be assisted by another talented group of musicians…
The Game Music Collective
Located in Finland, the Game Music Collective is known for impassioned live performances featuring a relatively small ensemble of skillful musicians who add to the energy of the music by remaining on their feet throughout the concerts. Unfortunately, they haven’t posted tour dates for 2021, and they aren’t organizing live-streaming events during the coronavirus pandemic. However, their YouTube channel is very active with posts of game music performances recorded before the live music scene shut down. These posts include a video of their own performance of music from Final Fantasy VII Remake. Until the official Final Fantasy VII Remake Orchestral World Tour kicks off, this video from the Game Music Collective should make waiting easier:
For those who’d like to hear more from the Game Music Collective, this YouTube playlist is a good start.
Video Games in Symphony
Since 2018, the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra in Denmark has regularly presented a “Video Games in Symphony” concert as part of its repertoire. As of this writing, the Aalborg Symphony Orchestra has closed its doors temporarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with plans to reopen on February 28th 2021. With that in mind, we should remember that the current schedule of offerings may be subject to change. However, their current schedule includes a “Video Games in Symphony” concert set for April 9th, 2021. According to their web site, “With Video Games in Symphony, we pay tribute to the fantastic music that helps to tell and amplify gripping stories. Aalborg Symphony Orchestra takes you on a musical adventure, presented by game and film enthusiasts Jacob Ege Hinchely and Elias Eliot, who make up the Han Duo.” The concert will be conducted by Alexander Hanson. Past performances have included music from Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Skyrim, Kingdom Hearts, and many others. As an example of what to expect, here’s a video of a performance from the Sept. 2019 edition of “Video Games in Symphony.”
Video Games Live
No list of video game concert tours would feel complete without the inclusion of Video Games Live – the granddaddy of them all. This concert tour has been crisscrossing the world since their 2005 debut performance at the Hollywood Bowl. In normal times, the Video Games Live concert tour mounts dozens of performances each year. As of this writing, the web site for Video Games Live only lists one upcoming concert for which tickets are available. The performance at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma Washington had originally been scheduled for May 15, 2020, then rescheduled for March 6th 2021. Now this concert date has been postponed to April 2, 2022 – more than a year later.
We can hope that things will pick up for this venerable concert tour as the vaccine is more widely administered and it becomes safe to attend public events again. In the meantime, here is the most recently posted video from the tour – a January 2020 performance in Doha, Qatar:
World of Games in Concert
According to the organizers, “Get ready for a unique experience – WORLD OF GAMES IN CONCERT for the first time in Krakow! A unique performance and a symphonic-rock show, not only for music lovers from the virtual world of games. In previous editions, the concert attracted ten thousand people and achieved great popularity. The CoOperate Orchestra, conducted by the irreplaceable Adam Domurat, and the AMU Academic Choir prepared by Beata Bielska will perform on stage. The performers will delight with great arrangements of legendary game soundtracks – starting from Mario and Sonic, through classics such as Doom, Assassin’s Creed, to The Witcher and God of War.”
This concert was originally scheduled for November 4, 2020, but was canceled due to Covid-19. The World of Games in Concert event is currently set for May 15th 2021 in Kaakow Poland. Founded in 2012, The CoOperate Orchestra is a young Polish ensemble with a varied repertoire, from Baroque music to film and game scores. The orchestra is led by conductor Adam Domurat, who is also the originator, one of the founders, and the artistic director of the CoOperate Orchestra. There are currently no promotional videos of the upcoming concert, so here’s a short teaser trailer for the 2019 concert:
A New World: Intimate Music from Final Fantasy
This concert tour reimagines the music of the Final Fantasy game series for small venues and modest chamber ensembles. Their web site lists two 2021 concert dates – May 23rd 2021 in Illinois and June 18 2021 in Dusseldorf. Both concerts are rescheduled from their original dates in 2020, due to Covid-19. As with all other in-person events listed here, these dates are provisional and can be changed should the pandemic require it. According to the organizers, “The New World Players, under the direction of Eric Roth, together with the award-winning piano soloist Benyamin Nuss, will ensure an incomparable evening of Final Fantasy music.” Here’s a new commercial released this past September via the official YouTube account.
So this concludes our survey of what’s happening this upcoming year in the world of game music concerts! I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of VGM concert resources. Thanks for reading!
Winifred Phillips is a well-known video game composer whose latest project is the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Big Adventure (soundtrack album now available). Popular music from Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score is featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which made its Paris debut in 2019 with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Total War, The Sims, and Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As one of the foremost authorities on music for interactive entertainment, Winifred Phillips has given lectures at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, and many more. Phillips’ enthusiastic fans showered her with questions during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session that went viral, hit the Reddit front page, received 14.9 thousand upvotes, and became one of the most popular gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.