Top Score at PAX Prime 2012

Over Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure to attend PAX Prime in Seattle, along with more than 70-thousand others. PAX is similar to conferences like Comic-Con, but its focus is on video game and table-top games.

I was invited to PAX to moderate a panel, where I interviewed five game composers in front of a packed audience of more than 600 game-music fans. It was a thrill to represent Classical MPR and to introduce Top Score to new faces and ears.

Jesper Kyd, Martin O’Donnell, Inon Zur, Sam Hulick and Michael McCann have each written music that courses through the blood of gamers. As I introduced each composer, fans chanted their names in appreciation and praise.

When tickets to attend PAX went up for sale in advance of the conference, all 70k of them sold out in a matter of days. We were advised by PAX “Enforcers” (security) to keep our badges down our shirts if we walked outside, as badge-less thieves were ripping lanyards right from inattentive necks.

I interviewed the composers for about 40 minutes, at which time we opened a single, standing microphone for questions. I’d no sooner said, “Let’s open the floor for…,” and people ran… yes, ran… to the mic to line up.

At the conclusion, we went to a table outside for Jesper, Michael, Martin, Sam and Inon to sign anything and everything brought to them.

The memorabilia brought to the table varied from old game t-shirts to CDs to records to programs to cases games came inside. It was great to see some of the vintage posters some of the people had as well.

I’d never been to Seattle before, I’d never been to a convention like PAX before, and I’d certainly never interviewed five people in front of 600 before. It was incredible.

I chose a personal favorite theme for each of the composers I interviewed at PAX so you can get an idea of the variety of their music below. It made for an interesting conversation, since Michael, Martin, Sam, Inon and Jesper all have widely differing backgrounds.

Martin O’Donnell is best known for his work on the Halo franchise, having written for five of the six games currently available. Jesper Kyd, for his work on Assassin’s Creed and the three subsequent games in the AC franchise, in addition to Borderlands (1 & 2), the Hitman series and Darksiders II. Sam Hulick is the only composer who’s worked on all three Mass Effect games, as well as Red Orchestra 2. Inon gets standing ovations for his work on the Dragon Age series, the Fallout series, Rift, Lord of the Rings: War in the North and many, many more.

In alphabetical order of composer last name:

Leif Ove Andsnes on the edge


Love this photo of Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. It catches him relaxed, focused, with music on his mind and a job to do as his piano perches thousands of feet in the air atop a mountain.

Leif climbs many mountain passes in tonight’s Carnegie Hall Live concert – a reprise of selections from his solo recital (and a couple of other hot ticket names) that we broadcast live here on Classical-MPR.

And what a concert! Haydn, Bartok, Debussy, Chopin – a whirlwind. Don’t miss it tonight at 8:00.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Sep. 25 to Oct. 2

Tuesday, 8 pm: Best of Carnegie Hall Live, Season One: Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Wednesday, 8 pm: Best of Carnegie Hall Live, Season One: Leif Ove Andsnes, L’Arpeggiata, Karita Mattila, and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: Minnesota Concert Opera.

Thursday, 8 pm: Best of Carnegie Hall Live, Season One: Leif Ove Andsnes, Lang Lang, and Andras Schiff with the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Friday, 8 pm: Best of Carnegie Hall Live, Season One: Bach’s St. John Passion, with Les Violons du Roy.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Beyond Böellmann.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: The Vienna Philharmonic plays “The Ring Without Words.”

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Music of Mendelssohn and Giorgio Batistelli.

Maria Schneider on Overcoming Writer's Block

Maria Schneider is my first guest on the Composer Conversation Series. This Grammy-winning composer, originally from Windom, Minnesota, has worked in jazz and classical, and has worked with musicians Dawn Upshaw, Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra and Kronos Quartet, among others. Join my on September 28 at 2pm here at MPR. It’s a free event, but reservations required.

How does Maria Schneider overcome writer’s block?

Guillaume de Machaut, a primer

Guillaume de Machaut was born sometime around 1300 in Champagne. As is the case with so many medieval composers, and even beyond, no one knows his exact date of birth.

That means we never get to celebrate it.

So I wanted to share a song written by Machaut, called Rose, liz, printemps, verdure, performed by the Gothic Voices. Not only is this one of my favorite Machaut songs, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music ever.

My ear is immediately drawn to the open harmony and the unusual cadences (endings of phrases). The cadences are, though, as they should be given the time period – it’s just not how we’re used to hearing phrases end.

For living in the 14th century, Machaut’s music and poetry was well-preserved and cataloged. Although the majority of his music is secular, his mass, Messe de Nostre Dame, is the first extant copy of a composer’s complete mass setting. Machaut’s hundreds of poems tell tales of the Black Death, the French countryside, love and more.

On the Air This Week

Highlights from Sep. 25 to Oct. 2

Wednesday, 8 pm: Minnesota Opera: Mozart’s Così fan tutte.

Thursday, 3 pm hour: Regional Spotlight: From the Bridge Chamber Music Festival, Erin Keefe and Tony Ross.

Sunday, 6 am: Pipedreams: Cameron Carpenter at the BBC Proms.

Sunday, noon: From the Top.

Sunday, 1 pm: SymphonyCast: From the BBC Proms: The St. Louis Symphony, led by David Robertson.

Monday, 8 pm: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra: Music of Mendelssohn and James MacMillan.

Monday, 10 pm: Music for the High Holidays.

Tuesday, 8 pm: Best of Carnegie Hall, Season One: Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Render unto Sid Caesar 90 birthday candles

Sid Caesar turns 90 tomorrow. He’s a legend in comedy, but he started out in music.

When he was 14, he played saxophone in jazz bands in the Catskills. He studied music at Juilliard for a while, but also started incorporating comedy sketches in his band performances.

In 1939 he joined the Coast Guard band and collaborated on military shows with the famous songwriter Vernon Duke (composer of Autumn in New York, April in Paris, and Taking a Chance on Love). Eventually, Sid Caesar’s comedy got more applause than his music, and a star was born.

Early live television made Sid Caesar famous around the country for his innovative writing and improvisation, like the famous “Argument to Beethoven’s Fifth,” in which Sid Caesar and Nannette Fabray play a married couple in a argument pantomimed to classical music. The video is online now at our Classical Notes blog.

Be sure to watch to the very end!

After that you can watch his spoof the Grieg Piano Concerto, and see Sid Caesar and Imogen Coca blow up the 1812 Overture.