ISU Symphony Orchestra mixes jazz and video games


From Jonathan Govias

An array of classic video game music will be performed by the ISU Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with the Des Moines Gamer Symphony Orchestra during two October performances.

Valley High School will host the orchestra on Oct. 9, and Howe Hall will host the second show Oct. 14, both starting at 7:30 p.m. Music from the games “Hollow Knight,” “League of Legends,” “Mass Effect,” “Donkey Kong,” “Pokémon” and more will be played by 104 musicians.

“It is part of my responsibility to musicians in the orchestra to make sure that they have contact with all kinds of repertoire,” Jonathan Govias, ISU Symphony Orchestra conductor, said. “There’s always going to be people who want to hear Beethoven and Brahms and Bach and Mozart, but there are people who want to hear ‘Legend of Zelda’ and ‘Skyrim’ and ‘Mass Effect.’ And this is good music too, and it should be played, and it should be heard.”

Govias was asked by the Des Moines Gamer Symphony Orchestra to conduct one of their fall shows. Coincidentally, he had already been working on this video game performance, so he felt it was natural for them to work together.

The group is inviting jazz singers to perform with them through ongoing auditions. Singers will upload a 60-second clip of them singing “Jump Up, Superstar” from Super Mario.

“Part of the point in programming music of this nature is to be more inclusive, and we thought it would be really nice to have a public search for a jazz singer who would want to do something fun and different and unusual with the orchestra,” Govias said.

The symphony orchestra does an audition or competition like this every year, but it is typically to look for an opera singer. This year, Govias and the Des Moines Gamer Symphony Orchestra board members decided jazz would be the best to complement the theme. The unique approaches Govias is taking this year have been well-received by the members.

“I think they’re very excited about it; I think they’re pumped,” Govias said. “This is stuff that they all know. They’ve heard it before, they’ve enjoyed it, and they have a chance to perform it and present it at a completely different level.’

With music from both older and newer video games, Govias is confident people of all ages will enjoy these performances.

“We’re doing music from about 25 years of video games, all the way back to ‘Donkey Kong,’” Govias said. “We’re doing ‘Hallow Night,’ which came out two years ago, and it’s been a huge hit. I think there really is something for everyone there. Whether you’re new to gaming or you were involved in gaming 25 years ago, there’s stuff on the program you’re going to know and enjoy.”

Each performance will include nine songs and last around an hour. They are both free to the public.

On the day of the Ames performance, a Smash Brothers tournament will take place at Howe Hall with prizes for winners. Further details and a registration page will be sent out this week by the orchestra.