Pokémon Symphonic Evolutions – The Mann Center for the Performing Arts – September 19, 2014
Hmm, talk about a little bit of corporate synchronicity.
The Mann Festival Orchestra and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia get together to do a symphonic greatest hits of the background music from the impossibly popular Pokémon video games. It’s high art meets… umm, electronic art? Gamer art? Pop art? The cult of Pikachu?
I’m not sure, but it’s a fascinating concept.
I have no doubt that a lot of the members of the orchestra were thinking as they played, “I studied at the Berklee School of Music or Juilliard for this?” Still, this is actually kind of a cool way to expose classical (or even pseudo-classical) music to the masses. Only a small portion of the crowd would normally be caught near a classical music concert.
Now, I’m not going to lie, I’m too old to have played any of these games and I don’t know a Squirtle from an Arbok from a Mewtwo, but I was there with my twelve-year-old nephew, who is a huge fan of the series.
Musically the score was often surprisingly pretty, particularly considering that much of it was made up to be played via a 2-bit speaker as non-distracting background noise for a game. Surprisingly, even though it was all instrumental, the fans obviously had their favorite songs and cheered lustily as those started.
During the songs, a huge screen showed colorful backgrounds and often spent entire songs showing video captures of each adventure as played by some unknown (omniscient?) gamer in the sky.
They were done in chronological order, so that we could watch the art evolve from blocks and stick figures to highly detailed characters and backgrounds. It was almost like a history of computer program art condensed into about an hour and a half.
Still, there is nothing particularly stimulating about watching someone else play a video game, and that is compounded when it is a group of several thousand doing so. I suppose having played the game yourself would have made it more intriguing in the long run, as most of the crowd appeared to be getting a real kick out of it.
Of course, half of the entertainment value came from the crowd, a rogues gallery of people from 4 to 40, many extravagantly dressed as their favorite Pokémon character, walking blindly through the amphitheater with their eyes glued to their DS. It’s amazing there were not a whole slew of pathway accidents. I half expected people to even throw down their Pokéballs and have a battle.
However, I have to admit, conductor Susie Seiter and her orchestra pulled it off, making the songs of Pokémon soulful, atmospheric and occasionally even transcendent. Pokémon and classical seems like an odd coupling, but sometimes the weirdest matings evolve into something special.
Jay S. Jacobs
Photos by Derek Brad © 2014. Courtesy of Mann Center for the Performing Arts and Fresh PR.