The first three bars of the Super Mario Bros. theme are iconic. Its instantly recognisable melody is a style of music synonymous with video games. But, since its design, video games have changed and their musical scope has shifted.

So, bringing decades of video game musical evolution together into one live orchestral performance isn’t a simple or straightforward task. Nevertheless, this was the aim of The Manchester Video Game Orchestra during their recent online performance. And they absolutely outdid themselves.

From Console to Concert Hall 2.0 was an astounding celebration of video game music, which successfully turned all the chosen songs into lively, orchestral renditions. I’ll never forget how it felt to hear melodies that are synonymous with growing up brought to life through my computer screen. Each instrument was given explicit purpose even if, on occasion, a few liberties were taken with the organisation of certain songs.

While hearing this performance in a live environment would have been the more ideal experience, the sound editing was pushed to its limits in an attempt to make everything as clear as possible. The sound also married well with the visuals, as each individual performance was captured on video and layered on the screen to make sure that each musician was included.

Occasionally, footage from the games would also appear, recreating the sense of kinship these games have with their music when played in person. Admittedly, this means that the screen felt quite messy. But, despite the occasional shortcomings, I respect the decision to take this performance online and give focus to all its performers. 

Manchester Video Game Orchestra CTRPre-recording the performance from lounges and bedrooms does have some benefits and a number of the more famous medleys were introduced alongside interviews with their original composers. Grant Kirkhope talked about his career before the music of Banjo-Kazooie was brought to life, and Josh Mancell introduced the segment dedicated to Crash Bandicoot.

While these names and games certainly don’t need to be explained to fans, the inclusion of footage and interviews undoubtedly ensures that the music is more accessible than, say, a Spotify playlist.

One thing was clear throughout the performance: the sheer admiration and passion of everyone involved. Whether they were playing strings, brass, keys, electric guitars, or even what looked like a didgeridoo, there was a real love for the instruments, classical performance and video games as a whole.

Composing this music into an orchestral format, and then editing all the separate instruments and their players together, is something that deserves recognition. But doing so in a way that celebrates the culture and sound of video games deserves an equal amount of appreciation. There’s nothing quite like hearing the soundtrack to your youth depicted in this way.

Tom Hillary, founder and conductor of the Manchester Video Game OrchestraAnyone who is interested should keep an eye on The Manchester Video Game Orchestra as there aren’t many groups willing to undertake such an enormous and time-consuming project. If this type of orchestral performance is to continue, we need to support it.

By Will Nelson

Images courtesy of The Manchester Video Game Orchestra. 


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