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„Game music is absolutely suitable for concert halls” – Heroes Orchestra Interview

Daniel Aleksander Krause | 19-04-2024 r.

This year we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Heroes of Might and Magic III. On this special occasion, the Heroes Orchestra Festival took place at the turn of February and March. The band does not need any further introduction – all music fans from this series of games are well aware that it is synonymous with the highest quality arrangements and performance. The entire event dedicated to the orchestra’s work was therefore a real feast for enthusiasts of the sounds of Heroes – especially since the composer of the original music, Paul Anthony Romero, joined the team once again.

The festival consisted of a total of 5 concerts. In addition to the orchestra’s standard repertoire, consisting of music from the third and fourth parts in the franchise, we heard a much richer representation of music from Heroes II and Heroes V. Special mention goes to the concert of the Paul Romero Quintet, in which refreshingly new, partly improvised arrangements of well-known motifs were played in quintet versions – for piano (Paul Romero), saxophone (Brock Summers), accordion (Mateusz Alberski), guitar (Dawid Wurczel), and double bass (Adam Wardziak). It was just before this event that we had the opportunity to meet with members of Heroes Orchestra and ask them a few questions. We invite you to read the interview below.

Paul Anthony Romero and Mateusz Alberski with the rest of Heroes Orchestra (source: Wierzbicki Jarek Fotografia)

Daniel Aleksander Krause: Hi! I’m pleased to welcome the cream of the crop of Heroes Orchestra – Maestro Mateusz Alberski and Natalia Gruszczyńska.

Mateusz Alberski: The pleasure is mine.

Natalia Gruszczyńska: Hi!

DAK: Thank you for dedicating your time. We’re meeting here during the Heroes Orchestra Festival. It seems to be the largest event in your history so far – almost 5 consecutive days of various events. It all started in 2017 as a diploma project, didn’t it?

MA: Actually, the diploma project came later. We started as a group of students who really liked playing video games. So, you could say, it all stemmed from a passion for gaming. Later, when the group grew to the size of an orchestra, it could indeed be considered for a diploma project. But the initial idea didn’t include the exam at all – it was only later that the university authorities gave me the permission to do that.

DAK: It started on a fairly small scale, and within six years, it grew to really large proportions. How did this snowball come about?

MA: It didn’t roll super quickly at first, but that’s exactly how it was. At the beginning our group consisted perhaps of five people at the first rehearsal. Then there were nine at the next one. That’s when I started working on „Necropolis”, which took quite a while because I didn’t really know how to arrange music yet. I was still learning that at the university. Since I was a choir member, I could ask my choir friends if they wanted to participate in this project. And that choir gave us quite a massive number at the beginning: nine instrumentalists, but forty singers in the choir. Over time, there were even more. Natalia joined for the next project, which was the music for “Inferno”. The number of instrumentalists reached 20 by then, so it was no longer a chamber project.

NG: At the very beginning the concerts weren’t our goal. I don’t think we even thought about it – we were just recording and having a good time. Concerts emerged mostly because of the high interest in the project – not only did many artists want to play with us, but also many people wanted to come and listen.

MA: That’s true.

DAK: So, the orchestra was initially a gamers’ project?

MA: Exactly. A gamers’ project, but at the University of Music.

DAK: Are all your members into gaming?

MA: The core group is certainly into gaming. I think by now everyone has some idea about Heroes. <laughter> But generally at least 80% of the orchestra has some understanding of it.

DAK: Right. When the rest of the team shares a similarly emotional and personal approach to this music, it must have a significant impact on the connection between you as the arranger and conductor and the orchestra?

MA: Yes, it helps a lot. And I believe that in many ways, it gives us an advantage as an orchestra. When someone knows what they’re playing, they play better than someone who is just reading the notes. It’s easy to explain. If someone is a painter and must paint something based on someone else’s work, it’s obvious they’ll do better if they’ve seen it at least once… Maybe it’s a funny comparison, but the point is that the soundtrack is a big part of the whole thing. If someone has seen the game and knows the atmosphere, they’ll play that music a thousand times better than someone who encounters it for the first time.

NG: In the case of our concerts, the repertoire isn’t played randomly either. It’s very well thought out and has a strong connection to the game. This is exactly what Mateusz is talking about – when our musicians know what they’re playing, I suspect that they even see bits of the game in their minds…

MA: Yes, absolutely! I can see it when I look at them. The concert is like a journey through the game. We often start with the „Main Theme”, so we’re launching the menu. Then we build our town and there are the town melodies; when the hero is developed, there are campaigns, there’s battle music… So yeah, it’s all very well planned and it really has a huge impact on the fans’ reception. The arrangement aims to stimulate imagination and above all, evoke memories of the game. I’ve never experienced that myself because I’m always on the conductor’s podium. <laughter> But once, I attended a concert of music from World of Warcraft, of which I’m a huge fan… Oh my, I didn’t just hear the music there, I felt like I was in the game already. I knew exactly when each melody was playing, what my character was doing at the very moment… and that’s the point.

DAK: I remember when I attended your concerts four years ago. Some people were sitting with laptops in the audience, playing the game to your music. Complete immersion!

MA: Exactly.

DAK: Let’s talk about arrangements. Let me divide your repertoire into two parts. On the one hand, there are songs that very accurately reproduce the original compositions. On the other hand, some are a bit more daring in terms of arrangement – for example, „Stronghold,” which compared to the original, has a very contemporary ending, or the often-occurring choir additions, like in „Battle” or „Necropolis.” When do you decide that you want to change something and how much do you take into account potential reactions from fans?

MA: That’s a really difficult question. I’ll tell you how it changed over time. I’ll try to explain it super simply. The first piece, „Necropolis,” had a choir because at that time, I knew 10 people in the orchestra and, let’s say, 50 in the choir. So, the choir dominated then, but now the arrangement is different. When I did the second piece, „Inferno,” I had more instrumental players available. Now all these things are arranged for a gigantic lineup, but the whole idea came from there. „Cove,” the pirate theme, is created very similarly to the original, but we added a choir. Why? In the times when these games were created, samples didn’t yet allow for the playback of words. So, if we played only the originals like in the game, the choir would often sing only „aaah-oooh” or sit through half the concert, which would make no sense. In most cases, these more daring arrangements, as you called them, are a result of what’s at our disposal – now we have a choir, special folk instruments, or more brass instruments, which back in the day were not so widely available in MIDI soundtracks…

NG: I might also add something, being someone who handles social media. There are often very positive and very negative comments on the same subject. Some people like that Mateusz decided to enrich a song with choir that wasn’t there before. However, others get offended and can write that they won’t come to the concert anymore. They feel sad because „it doesn’t sound like the original.”

MA: Why do they come then? If they know how we play and they want to listen to the original, they can play it at home. Of course, I’m a bit of a tease now…

NG: Anyway, the opinions are mostly extreme. There’s no such thing as „just ok.”

MA: It’s also worth mentioning that 98% of the reactions are positive, like „wow, cool choir.” And those 2% are just grumblers. If you want to listen to the original, then don’t come to the concert, because you know that there is going to be a choir.

DAK: There will always be grumblers.

MA: Exactly. And there will always be a comment. I’ve learned to react differently now because it used to annoy me. Nowadays, I often engage in longer conversations on this topic, mainly with people who comment on YouTube, and sometimes I manage to convince them. So, now we’re neutralizing even those 2% of grumblers. <laughter>

DAK: I talked to Paul about this, and he said that „Nature” is his favorite arrangement of yours.

MA: Damn, it’s not mine. <laughter>

DAK: He mentioned they had problems during recording because originally, they recorded a female choir with the wrong sampling frequency, and when they put it together, it sounded like a children’s choir. Then they had to heavily edit it electronically to make it sound right. He praised you for really capturing that process, de facto in a purely acoustic way. How did you approach that?

MA: Well, I’ll say that it wasn’t actually a difficult task. For a female singer to sing like a girl isn’t hard, and since we have a 40-person choir, it’s much easier to achieve that effect than with 15. But I understand Paul because it’s the whole idea that „damn, it wasn’t supposed to be like this, and you guys actually made it better than it was supposed to be.” <laughter> I guess that’s his point, and I’m very happy about it. I really like this arrangement too. A big advantage is that it’s live; music at a concert is full of real emotions. Not to mention that we can meet the artist, wave at them, and smile. It’s hard for me to describe it, but if something is live, it affects us differently than when we listen to it on a record at home. I basically started noticing the difference this year, and it is there. That’s why I’m glad we’re playing so many concerts now, and I envy the listeners because they really have this live experience. A record at home won’t replace a live Krzysztof [Ratajski, soloist – ed. note] singing „Nature.”

DAK: You’ve been performing for years now, and you’ve also started expanding the format. Your repertoire is becoming richer, and today you’ll be playing arrangements for a quintet. At some point, you’ll run out of Heroes’ tracks to be arranged. You’ve already started arranging pieces from other games, like Baldur’s Gate or The Witcher… How do you see the future of your project?

MA: I can speak for myself here, as Natalia or others might have a slightly different idea. For now, it looks like there are still plenty of fans; in fact, Heroes is now experiencing a sort of renaissance. So, the fact we’re running out of pieces isn’t really a big problem – it won’t affect our image or the audience’s reception. Especially that our arrangements are heading in the right direction; they’re just getting better and better. But indeed, the fanbase may eventually diminish – I know there are still old veterans, but one day they’ll all turn 50. They have kids already; in the future they might have grandchildren. Will they come to the concert then? Let’s assume, in a huge perspective, what will happen in fifteen years or what will happen to me at all? <laughter>

As for other games – we’re already approaching them and trying to take care of their fans as well. We call ourselves the Heroes Orchestra, but fortunately, that name doesn’t only refer to the heroes from Heroes of Might and Magic, although it’s obviously derived from there. But there are also those little musical heroes who play other games. We already have over 10 arrangements from Gothic or Baldur’s Gate. In general, there are so many pieces outside the Heroes canon that I wouldn’t have enough fingers to count them, and it’s constantly going forward. I hope that one day our concerts will include music from these games as well. But it’s easy for me to say, and harder to obtain copyrights, so shall see how it goes.

DAK: The project is growing then… and the orchestra still mainly consists of students and graduates from the University, right?

NG: That’s how it started, although we’ve aged a bit and we’re still slightly growing. <laughter>

DAK: That’s exactly what I wanted to ask about. I suspect that each of you also has your own professional and personal life. How easy is it to gather all of you to play concerts and continue this project?

NG: Currently, we’re not an orchestra that has regular rehearsals. We’re a project-based group, so we gather the lineup when we have concerts planned. The core of the group is usually the same. Our musicians, of course, are not only involved with the Heroes Orchestra but also work as musicians in other orchestras. Some choir members don’t even work as musicians on a daily basis. However, we already have such a large pool of artists that we’ve never lacked musicians for a specific concert. Simply put, if someone can’t make it, we have a replacement lined up, and indeed, for now, we operate on a project basis. It doesn’t seem like we’ll become an orchestra like a philharmonic that plays concerts once or several times a week.

Paul Romero Quintet (source:

MA: I’ll also address the question of whether it’s easy to gather people. From my experience, it is easy. It seems to me, and I feel the same way during rehearsals, that we have a really cool project, and it has a very positive impact on the musicians. They come to us and they’re excited because they’re playing with their friends. I’m in charge of organizing recordings, and it often happens that my friend spontaneously tells me there’s a studio slot available, and we can record a piece. Then I call the musicians, and it’s not a problem to organize 15 prepared people for the following day. These are people who already have families, children, night jobs, day jobs, yet they always show up.

NG: It’s a nice break from what they do on a daily basis. I think they also see recordings and concerts with us not just as a job but as a form of entertainment.

DAK: Do you manage to make any profit out of this, or does everything go back into the project?

MA: The profit is not proportional to the work we put in, but we strongly believe that someday it will be. <laughter> This isn’t our main job. It’s an investment in the future of the project rather than a way to reap benefits from it.

NG: We are also a foundation, and our biggest goal is not profit, but the statutory goals we set at the start of the project. We want to spread the music from Heroes and video games in general as a separate element. I think one of our main goals is to attract people who would probably never find themselves in a concert hall otherwise. And I think that to a large extent we have already achieved that.

MA: Definitely. I don’t know if our audience will ever come to the Concert Studio of Polish Radio again. <laughter> I think many people might not be inclined to go to a philharmonic concert, but a concert of music from Diablo… that’s another story!

DAK: People involved in film music often encounter an attitude from those with a more academic background that soundtracks are somewhat second-rate music. Everyone knows that concert halls should have Penderecki or Mozart first. Have you ever dealt with negative reactions? After all, you started this project at the University of Music. Were there any sideways glances?

MA: Yes, very often, even in the concert office. How many times have we heard: „But what game music? Are you going to play Mario?” I sort of understand it because some older people may not even know that video game music can be comparable to Brahms, for example. In World of Warcraft, they rewrote half of Ravel or Mussorgsky, therefore culturally, it’s absolutely suitable for concert halls. So yeah, unfortunately, we have encountered this, and we try to fight it a bit.

NG: We often see such attitude when we try to collaborate with concert halls. They see young people passionate about video games, so they think it’s not a place for them. However, I think that this is changing. Film music already entered concert halls some time ago, and video game music is slowly catching up.

MA: Fortunately, we already have a portfolio and a YouTube channel, so they can see that the music we play is very broad and suitable for concerts halls.

DAK: It does feel like video game music is boldly entering concert halls more and more. Game concerts appear at the Film Music Festival in Krakow on a regular basis now, and you’re also doing a great job in that regard. I’d like to ask about Paul Romero. It’s quite a unique phenomenon when the composer comes personally to play with you at a concert and does it with tremendous enthusiasm. How did you get in touch? What’s the story behind this acquaintance?

MA: It goes like this. Before me, there were two Polish people arranging music from Heroes. One was Łukasz Kapuściński, who will be our honorary guest at tomorrow’s concert. He had a YouTube channel where he was uploading guitar covers of video game music. The other was Michał Bylina, a double bass player who was the first to try transcribing music from Heroes for an orchestra. As for me, I think I e-mailed Łukasz asking if he had any contact with Paul. At that time, we didn’t even have a name for the orchestra – there were maybe six people who liked playing games and music. And indeed, our first correspondence with Paul was via email. I wrote to him that I was planning to start a band that would play soundtracks from video games and asked if he happened to have any sheet music for Heroes. Well, he didn’t. <laughter> But he proposed a very bold mission for me to try arranging it myself: “I’ll help you if you have any trouble”. And that’s what happened. I made the first arrangements, and I remember Paul was utterly shocked. He sent me a friend request and wrote me his first message: „How is this even possible, man, where did you get 60 people in a concert hall?” I keep a screenshot of that message on my hard drive to this day, and I’ll never delete it. The whole thing just blew his mind, and since then, he’s had tremendous respect for us. I think over time he appreciates it even more because it’s also great for him.

From left to right: Daniel Aleksander Krause, Natalia Gruszczyńska, Mateusz Alberski

NG: I think for Paul, it might have been surprising that something like this was happening in Poland because in the US, where he lives, the game just died, and no one really plays it anymore. He may not have forgotten that he created such music but simply just had it in his portfolio. It was a song of the past. However, we opened some sort of a box, and it turned out there were many elements inside. Paul was overjoyed that it somehow came back, that the music he wrote for a game in the 90s is now being eagerly listened to and discovered by new people.

MA: And now he can have concerts outside of Poland as well.

DAK: Absolutely. You’ve started performing outside of Warsaw. Do you have any more ambitious plans, perhaps an international tour? Or is that a bit too much?

NG: For now, we’re limiting ourselves to Poland. This is because our orchestra is very large. The symphonic lineup with a choir is the most beloved by the audience…

MA: But the audience doesn’t know how much it costs. <laughter>

NG: It’s a huge cost for us to appear in different places with the whole orchestra, which sometimes we can bear, and sometimes we just can’t. We know that we have many fans in the north and south of Poland, and we will definitely try to meet this challenge.

DAK: Gdańsk and Kraków?

NG: Gdańsk and Kraków. Or somewhere nearby. <laughter> As for international trips, we certainly don’t rule that out. Many proposals come to us via e-mail. Unfortunately, when someone finds out the type of costs involved and that our group consists of 80 or even more people, it usually just does not work out.

DAK: A sponsor would be useful.

NG: Our concerts tomorrow are actually sponsored by Predator [Predator Gaming, Acer’s brand – ed. note] – thanks to them, the Heroes Orchestra Festival can be the way it is. Our concerts on March 3rd will be streamed, and people who can’t attend our concerts will be able to watch them online as well.

MA: And they won’t be much worse off because we try to make it really high quality. I know we won’t match the live experience with online recordings, but we try to make it as good as possible.

DAK: Great. Now, for the final question. What is your favorite town?

MA: Oh God, I won’t make it to the concert then. <laughter>

DAK: Quick shot.

MA: My favorite town… Musically, it’s „Stronghold”. I think it’s just phenomenal. As for gaming… lately, I’ve been playing a lot of Heroes again, and when I play serious games with serious opponents, I pick Castle. And with friends, I really like playing Dungeon.

NG: As for me, I can only speak musically, because I’m not a gamer. I have a lot of sentiment for „Fortress” – it’s one of the first arrangements Mateusz worked on when making music for our ensemble, and I think „Fortress” holds a special place in my heart.

MA: Really? I thought it would be „Inferno”.

NG: Oh, no. „Inferno” was the first piece I ever played with the Heroes Orchestra, but… yeah, definitely „Fortress”. <laughter>

DAK: Great! Thanks a lot for the conversation. I hope there will be more time to expand on these topics someday. Looking forward to the concert!

MA: It’s going to be a lively thing tonight. Thanks a lot!

NG: Thank you!

Paul Anthony Romero after the concert (source:

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