The Orchestral Game Concerts were an annual concert series in Tokyo, Japan which featured the music of "classic" Nintendo games, arranged for and performed by an orchestra. The first concert was in 1991, the last in 1995. Because of this time frame, the music did not feature any pieces from games later than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and are somewhat heavily populated by the works of Koji Kondo, who composed for the Mario and Zelda series, and Nobuo Uematsu, who had composed the music for the entire Final Fantasy series at that point, as well as several other games.
The series was well-attended and the CDs of the performances are nigh unto unfindable today without either a lot of money and patience or a willingness to break the law (and an awful lot of patience). However, it is well worth finding copies — they represent extremely well how video game music has evolved past being simply background noise into being a rich and complex source of aural entertainment. Speaking as (finally!) the proud owner of every one of these discs, I must heartily recommend them.
Although they are all performed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, the pieces represent a diversity of musical styles. One can find simple representative classical pieces, big-band music in the style of Aaron Copland, and even a full-length opera (Final Fantasy VI's Dream Oath Opera). There is something for most anybody who appreciates classical or semi-classical music here. Most of the music was arranged by Yoko Kanno and Koichi Sugiyama, who hailed from the Dragon Quest series of games.
What is most interesting for me is the fact that the concerts were performed years before it began to be accepted that the music of video games could be just as respectable as music from any other source — the composers and performers had, in many cases, just as much classical training as those of many other media. Today, this fact is more widely accepted, and similar concert series are performed across the world; however, in 1991, it is hard to conceive of there being daring enough executives at Nintendo to allow such a series.
Nevertheless, the Orchestral Game Concerts represent a giant development in the history of video game music. They showed that there was actually appreciable music in games, and that there was a fan base large enough to support continuing to improve music and sound development in games. Overall, the gaming world is far richer for it.
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