After more than a decade and a half absence, the sound of video games will make themselves heard on the Hollywood Bowl stage this summer. Scores from the “The Last of Us,” “Diablo,” “League of Legends” and others will receive the orchestral treatment at an event honoring the 10-year anniversary of the Game Awards.
The June 25 concert will largely focus on the recent past of video game music while also attempting to recognize the ways in which games are continuing to expand across mediums, as “League of Legends”-inspired animated series “Arcane” is among the dozen titles to be featured. New and upcoming games such as the contentious “Hogwart’s Legacy” and the still-to-be released “Final Fantasy XVI” and “Starfield” will also be featured at the show, all in keeping with the Game Awards’ mission of celebrating and hyping the present and future of the medium.
The concert, officially dubbed the Game Awards 10-Year Celebration, is presented in partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. Composer Lorne Balfe, known for his work on the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, will conduct the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Other games to be featured include “Elden Ring,” “God of War,” “Hades,” “Marvel’s Spider-Man” and the “Star Wars Jedi” franchise, whose sequel, “Star Wars Jedi: Survivor,” is due this month.
The concert is the brainchild of Geoff Keighley, the Game Awards founder whose quest has long been to bring video games into more mainstream spaces. Keighley will also in June stage the Summer Game Fest at the YouTube Theater, an event that will be heavy on trailers and teases for upcoming games. The June 8 Summer Game Fest and the June 25 the Game Awards 10-Year Celebration will in some ways attempt to fill the void left by the cancellation of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show and convention, which typically brought the game industry to Los Angeles for the entirety of early-to-mid-June.
“On both sides of what E3 was, we’re going to have these big fan gatherings,” Keighley says. “Summer Game Fest is not a trade show. It’s very much a live-streamed event, but we’ll have an audience this year. …It’s about coming together to celebrate our love of games. We planned these before we knew what was happening with E3, but in the back of my head I was definitely thinking of other ways we could gather the industry and fans together.”
The Hollywood Bowl show won’t be the first time the Los Angeles Philharmonic has toyed with video game music. In 2004, the orchestra and the L.A. Master Chorale performed selections from the “Final Fantasy” games at Walt Disney Concert Hall and over the years has hosted “Video Games Live” at the Hollywood Bowl. But the latter was last staged in the mid-2000s, and while the Hollywood Bowl regularly hosts film and theater events, video games have been a rarity.
It was no intentional slight, says Meghan Umber, senior VP or programming with the Philharmonic. “We very much consider the Hollywood Bowl a venue for everyone,” Umber says. “I have no interest in saying what music is more important than other music. … Maybe we’ll be welcoming new audiences to the Bowl. Maybe it will be audience members who have been there before but really love game music, but I think it’s important to provide our platform to game music as well.”
Some of Keighley’s curatorial selections are sure to raise some eyebrows. For one, in a year in which “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” is breaking box office records and with “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom,” due May 12, likely the most talked-about release of 2023, there is no selection representing Nintendo on the bill. Keighley expressed regret that a deal wasn’t able to get done, noting the concert came together in just a few months.
“We talked to Nintendo about it. It just didn’t work out, timing wise, to do something,” he says. “We’ve worked with them a lot on the Game Awards music, and hopefully we’ll be playing ‘Zelda’ music there if it gets nominated. One version of this was just plug in 10 game of the year winners over the past decade, but what we wanted to do was something that was a little more eclectic.”
Then there’s the presence of “Hogwart’s Legacy,” which was subject to much pre-release consternation among members of the gaming community. Many called for a boycott of the game over comments made over the years by “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling, which have been widely condemned as transphobic. Still, the title, from Warner Bros. Games subsidiary Avalanche Software, has become a massive hit, having sold more than 12 million copies worldwide in its first two weeks of release earlier this year.
Keighley acknowledged some may criticize and be disappointed in its inclusion, especially since the game has yet to be eligible for a nomination at the Game Awards, but also said it was too big to ignore. Keighley also pointed to the Hollywood Bowl calendar, noting that the venue will be showing both parts of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” this season. “I mean, it’s a successful game,” Keighley says. “It’s a really good game, theoretically. But I’m sure there will be some pushback, but the Bowl has a ‘Harry Potter’ movie the night before. It’s one of those things. There’s lots of ‘Potter’ things out there, but I’m sure there will be pushback.”
Keighley expects each game to get around 8 minutes on the Bowl stage. Most of the soundtracks lean large and orchestral — the sparse Western-inspired score from “The Last of Us” by composer Gustavo Santaolalla and the sweeping, rock-leaning “Hades” from Darren Korb among the few exceptions. Most game studios, Keighley says, will be creating original montages to accompany the performances.
Game music today is an expansive, respected field, and is now recognized via its own category at the Grammy Awards. But that wasn’t the cultural reception the first time the Philharmonic dipped into the medium. When the orchestra performed that 2004 concert honoring the “Final Fantasy” franchise, not all of its members were impressed. “It’s almost on the level of Muzak and pretty much completely without integrity,” one of the company’s musicians told the New York Times.
“The ‘Final Fantasy’ music is certainly not Muzak. I would disagree,” Keighley says. “I would hope we would not hear a quote like that this year. I think the artistry of the music in the show will blow people away. Hopefully people come out of it, both the orchestra players and regular orchestral music fans, saying, ‘Wow, that was really beautiful incredible music.’”
Tickets, ranging from $20 to $145, are on sale now.