Game Music Concert Series
Koichi Sugiyama is possibly the single most important figure in the history of video game music. Not only is he the celebrated composer of the Dragon Quest games, arguably the single most influential Japanese RPG series, he is also the pioneer of soundtrack albums, orchestral performances and concerts derived from video game music.
Back in the late 1980s when games were largely considered little more the electronic playthings for children, Sugiyama was rearranging and conducting video game compositions with full orchestras in his native Japan. In 86 he and Enix released an album containing music from the original Dragon Quest, the first recorded instance of both a soundtrack album and a live orchestral recording of video game music. A year later, he held what is regarded as the first video game music concert called the ‘Family Classic Concert’, once again showcasing the music from the Dragon Quest franchise.
By 1991, Sugiyama had turned his attention to broadening the scope of video game concerts, bringing in music from other companies and series, creating the Orchestral Game Music Concert series of performances.
Sadly, many details of these concerts have either been lost to time or simply are not available on English-speaking parts of the Internet. However, much of the Orchestral Game Music Concert performances survive through five CDs that were released between 1991 and 1996.
Known as the Game Music Concert albums, they are comprised mostly of arrangements from companies that were the most popular in the Japan at the time, mostly Enix, Squaresoft (before they merged, of course) and Nintendo.
In a world where we’re comparatively inundated with game music and arrangements of this calibre, the Game Music Concerts hold up superbly today. One fascinating thing when listening to them now is how they’ve clearly had a cyclical influence on the industry. Listen to this Kirby medley and tell me that it didn’t directly inspire this Super Smash Bros. Melee version of one of Kirby’s most recognisable themes. Modern game concerts still appear to be using of some these GMC arrangements too; for example, Video Games Live’s recurring use of the Legend of Zelda piece.
The rest of the games industry eventually followed Sugiyama’s examples, with soundtrack albums and game concerts now a common practice, even here in the West.
Though the CD albums have never been officially released in the West and are considered a rarity in Japan (likely due to never being reissued), thankfully they’re not too difficult to find online. Given their scarcity and historical importance, I’ve no issue with pointing you to at least these complete sets of playlists of all five albums on YouTube.