Recap: Grand Rapids Pops gives heroic performance of “Pokemon: Symphonic Evolutions”

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk

DeVos Performance Hall seldom sees audiences like this.

Concert-goers in unusual yellow hats pecked at handheld video games to pass the time before the start of the evening’s entertainment. Finally, a young woman in a white coat, standing in front of the Grand Rapids Symphony, faced the audience and said, "Grand Rapids, I choose you."

With the audience roaring its approval, guest conductor Susie Benchasil Seiter gave the downbeat to kick off “Pokémon: Symphonic Evolutions” on Friday, February 5.

The Grand Rapids Pops welcomed the sights and sounds of Pokémon games, from the original Red, Blue and Yellow versions to the most recent X and Y games, for the third and final concert of its 2015-16 Nestlé Gerber SymphonicBOOM Series.

Go to the Grand Rapids Symphony's Instagram page to see more photos from Friday night's show.

The Grand Rapids Symphony gave a heroic performance of music by Pokémon’s original composer Junichi Masuda, with additional music by composer Chad Seiter, orchestrated and arranged by Seiter and Benchasil Seiter, husband and wife.

“Symphonic Evolutions” is the latest in a growing scene of video game-themed shows appearing in concert halls throughout the world. In fact, Seiter was in DeVos Hall just three seasons ago, leading the Grand Rapids Symphony in a similar show, “The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses,” 

"Symphonic Evolutions" spans the nearly 20 year history of Pokémon games, films and TV shows with visual images, both still and video, set to music performed live by an orchestra.

For hardcore Pokémon fans, “Symphonic Evolutions” is like halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl, with iconic images splashed across the jumbo Tron and familiar melodies played loud and proud. For everyone else -- girlfriends, grandparents or anyone unclear what a Game Boy is, “Symphonic Evolutions” simply is entertainment that pushes your buttons.

Pokémon, introduced in Japan in 1996, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year on Feb. 27. The game took a couple more years to catch on in the United States.

Watching images from the original 8-bit games of the 1990s is a lot like listening to 78 rpm records on a Victrola. Charming in its own way, but you're always aware how dated the experience is.

Though you wouldn’t spend more than nine minutes watching the visuals without sound, you definitely would spend 90 minutes listening to the music without the images.

The Grand Rapids Symphony brought to life the Overture to Pokémon Red and Blue and did not let up for the rest of the 112-minute performance, not including a 21-minute intermission. On screen the Kanto region wasn’t much to look at, but musical themes such as “Prepare For Trouble” were intense and vibrant. On the flipside, melodies such as “End of the Road” were soft, sweet and sentimental. 

Like film music at its best, music from a wide range of genres, such as Klezmer and Latino, seasoned the show. Segments such as the “Ancients of Hoenn” packed a wallop. In fact, epic, champion, battle themes ruled the day. The stamina necessary to get through the show wasn’t inconsequential. When Chad Seiter at the end of the evening praised the Grand Rapids Pops as “easily one of the best orchestras in America” with “some of the loudest French horns I’ve ever heard,” the point already had been made to the enthusiastic audience.

Several of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s assistant principal players on Friday took over the principal chair duties, showing off the depth of the orchestra. 

When Benchasil Seiter asked the audience of 2,201 how many had never been to an orchestra concert before, the show of hands could have been measure most accurately by the dozens rather than by the hundreds. 

But when the Grand Rapids Symphony kicked off the first encore, the Pokémon TV show theme song, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” the number of people singing along sounded less like hundreds and more like thousands. 

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 12:00 PM
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