Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Tommy Tallarico is all for family fun with interactive 'Video Games Live'

Where technology and classical music meet, that's where you'll find Tommy Tallarico living out his lifelong dream in video game land. Tallarico happens to be an internationally recognized video game composer who, for more than 23 years, has been creating unique audio landscapes that enhance the video gaming experience. His current touring concert, "Video Games Live," hits the Lehigh Valley on Sunday evening at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown.

"If Beethoven were alive, he'd be a video game composer," said Tallarico, 45, from his home in Orange County, Calif. "…Tchaikovsky had live cannons on stage for the ‘1812 Overture.' These guys were rock stars of their time. …For me, video games and music have been my greatest loves."

Tallarico will be performing at Wolf Trap on Saturday with the National Symphony Orchestra before "Video Games Live" rolls into Allentown for Sunday's 7:30 p.m. show. The Allentown Symphony Orchestra and the Concord Chamber Singers will be accompanying Tallarico in the immersive concert event featuring music from the most popular video games of all time, including "Zelda," "Halo" and "Final Fantasy." There will be exclusive synchronized video footage and music arrangements, synchronized lighting, well-known Internet solo performers, electronic percussion, live action and interactive segments to involve the audience. Tallarico also encourages "clapping and cheering, yelling, screaming and hollering" during the fun event.

And that's only what will be happening inside the auditorium, Tallarico said, adding that pre-show activities in the lobby will include a costume contest, Guitar Hero competition, and a chance to perform on stage with him and the Allentown Symphony Orchestra during the show.

"I don't know of anyone under 30 who doesn't play games," Tallarico said. "It's another form of media."

The melodic bleeps and bloops of yesterday's video games have long been replaced by symphonic music and choirs. Tallarico compared the evolution to the early days of the movie industry, when films were black and white and silent. When the video tennis "Pong" debuted in 1972, it was black and white with no sound or storyline.

"We're in an exciting time right now in entertainment," he said. "When you play a game and become the character…the game music becomes the soundtrack of your life. …Film and television have background or incidental music. …Video games have foreground music. It gets interactive. We get big action scenes in music every time."

A video game junkie since the age of 10, Tallarico, who hails from Springfield, Mass., said his was the first generation to grow up on video games. The oldest of three, it was a family event to gather around and get caught up in the action on the screen. Able to play electric guitar and piano, he'd carry it one step further by adding recorded arcade music and presenting mini video game concerts in his basement for his friends.

Tallarico said he also was inspired by John Williams' symphonic music in "Star Wars" and by watching his cousin Steven Tyler, aka Steven Tallarico, of the rock band Aerosmith. He said he would watch Tyler in concert from backstage and think how "that job never seemed like an unattainable dream. I told myself, ‘I can do that.' It never felt unattainable." With their busy schedules, Tallarico said, "We text a lot."

Headed to California at the age of 21, with no prospects of a job, the door opened for Tallarico when he met a video game producer and had the opportunity to work on the "Prince of Persia" game. To date, he's worked on more than 300 game titles and has garnered numerous industry awards along the way. His top titles include "Earthworm Jim," "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater," "Disney's Aladdin," "Spider-Man" and "Metroid Prime," as well as top-selling popular game franchises including "Sonic the Hedgehog," "Pac-Man," "Madden Football," "Mortal Kombat," "Time Crisis," ‘Unreal," "Lineage," "James Bond," "Blitz Football," "Knockout Kings," "Test Drive," "Scooby Doo," "WWE" and "Twisted Metal." His score for "Advent Rising" has been recognized by websites as "one of the greatest musical scores of all time."

Tallarico still plays a mean guitar and now is joined on stages around the world by top orchestras and choirs since "Video Games Live" began in 2002. He recalled the first show at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic and more than 11,000 patrons in the audience. Today he reaches millions in his quest to prove how culturally significant and artistic video games have become.

"What a fantastic way for young people to come out and appreciate a symphony," he said.

Just how effective is his message? He told the story of a female musician in a symphony who came up to him in tears after one of his concerts. She said she had tried for years to get her son to come see her play and on this particular night, he not only came to see her but brought along some of his friends. He couldn't believe that his mom was on stage playing "Halo" and "Warcraft."

Tallarico said he wants his Allentown audience to leave Sunday's concert "with a whole new understanding and respect" for a craft that's gotten a bad rap. Non-gamers will have a whole new appreciation, he said. "They'll get it, they'll be blown away," while gamers will leave "with a warm feeling knowing their hobby and their love just got legitimized."

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This summer's 23rd annual Bandshell Concert Series sponsored by the Berks Arts Council kicks off Friday at 7 p.m., with pre-show events at 6:15 p.m., at the Volunteer Firemen's Memorial Bandshell in Reading's City Park, with Matuto, whose sound is described as "Brazilian Carnival in the Appalachian."

The lineup includes:

  • The Sweetback Sisters, July 19: A blend of country, swing and honky-tonk. Pre-show dance workshop will be presented by Louise Lamar Dance Studio of Reading.
  • The Chris Bergson Band, July 26: A blend of blues, roots and soul.
  • The Cintron Band, Aug. 2: This 12-piece Latin pop orchestra performs salsa, Latin jazz and popular dance music. Salsa dance instruction prior to the concert will be given by Wanda Holdren-Vega of the Latin Flair Dance Troupe of Reading.

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Members of the Emmaus Arts Commission want you to pick up some chalk and mark up the town! Actually, they want the drawings to be contained around the town triangle for what's to be the first "Chalk the Walk" event for ages 5 and up on Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.

According to member Angela Faidley, only registered artists will be assigned a block to create and exhibit their work. Judges will determine winners, and art product and cash prizes will be awarded in age divisions. Artists will be given some chalk to draw and are encouraged to bring their own chalk or pastels if they desire more depth and color. Faidley stressed that appropriate art work be chosen as this is a family event.

An arts teacher at St. Ann's School and owner of Out of Our Minds Art Studio in Emmaus, Faidley said she got the support of the Emmaus Arts Commission for the project she described as "the local version of an Italian Street Painting Festival." She runs a similar event each year in Sylvan Beach, N.Y., and is hoping for an annual event in Emmaus, Lehigh Co.

Music will be provided by Just 4 Fun. Rain date is Sat., July 20.

Upcoming events of the Emmaus Arts Commission include the 3rd annual Rain Barrel Art Silent Auction on Community Day in Community Park on Saturday, July 20. Bids are being accepted through July 19 at the Emmaus Run Inn and the Emmaus Farmers Market, and during Community Day, when the highest bidder will be named at 3 p.m.

The seven rain barrels are hand-painted by Faidley and area artists Ellen Wilson, Kaylee Kraft, Lauren Kuhn, and Emmaus High School students Angie Felon, Katie Thomas and Kailey Herring. They can be viewed at Emmaus Run Inn, Wentz Hardware, and the Emmaus Farmers Market.

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Everyone's favorite ogre comes to life when Sing for America presents the Lehigh Valley premiere of the Tony-winning "Shrek: The Musical," opening Thursday at 7 p.m. at Broughal Middle School, 114 W. Morton St., Bethlehem. The show, which runs through July 21, has a cast of 50 from age 8 on up.

Josh Simpson, who recently appeared in Liberty High School's, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," will portray Shrek. Christopher Ryland, a graduate of Lehigh Valley Performing Arts Charter School, is Donkey; Juan Padilla, who was the Scarecrow in Sing for America's "The Wiz," is Lord Farquaad, and Teara Gilbert, seen in Muhlenberg's production of "Hairspray," is Princess Fiona.

Proceeds from the show will help raise funds for area families of those serving in the military. Sing for America was founded by the Gilbert family of Easton in 2005. Through performances, more than $30,000 for families of active military has been raised. In 2011, the group began producing musicals which have included "Cinderella," "White Christmas" and "The Wiz." Sales of refreshments at the shows and a basket raffle also benefit military families. The Gilbert family constructs costumes and sets for the productions.

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Sculptor Dan Kainz will give "An Intimate View of Public Sculpture" as he leads a tour of art in Cedar Beach Park in West End Allentown on Saturday at 10 a.m., beginning at Ott and Honochick Streets and ending at Kainz's studio at Wenz Company, Inc., 1928 Hamilton St., with refreshments and discussion. The tour is sponsored by the Lehigh Valley Arts Council.

Kainz has studied and mastered all phases of stone manufacturing. He apprenticed with master stonecutters from Italy and European artisans. His lifelong interest in stone sculpture led to the formation of a sculpture division at Wenz in 1991, enabling him to construct large-scale abstract sculpture. His monumental pieces have found permanent locations throughout the country.

Kainz believes public art represents a commitment to the public environment, and that public art can inspire and inject creativity into the lives of its citizens by serving as a bridge between cultures, enriching the urban environment.

According to the Lehigh Valley Arts Council, Allentown is home to 60 public works and has contracted Kainz to develop a public arts policy to maintain the art work. Kainz stressed the need to begin educating the public about the collection available to them. His policy recommends the acquisition of new work to the collection.

The placing of outdoor sculpture around Allentown became a reality in 1971, when Allentown civic and business leaders Philip I. and Muriel Berman partnered with then Mayor Joseph Daddona's office, City Council, the Allentown Arts Commission and city agencies in support of public art.

Saturday's tour will include the following sculptures: "Aggressive Couple" by Igael Tumarkin, 1985; "Vertical Form" by Tom Sternal, 1986; "Archommage" by Ernest Shaw, 1981-82; "Cube and Thread" by Paul Sisko, 1977; and "Marine Memorial" by Tom Sternal, 1991.

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The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival is in full swing with another new production, Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," opening Friday and running through Aug. 4. The show will play in repertory with William Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure," opening July 20.

The "Earnest" cast includes Blake Ellis as John Worthing, Zack Robidas as Algernon Moncrieff, Alexie Gilmore as Gwendolen Fairfax, and Erin Partin as Cecily Cardew. Director Jim Helsinger plays Lady Bracknell.

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