Belfast's Irish Video Game Orchestra on performing at the Out to Lunch festival

The Irish Video Game Orchestra is one of only two orchestras in Europe dedicated to performing the music from our console favourites. Ahead of their gig at Belfast's Out to Lunch festival, Jenny Lee finds out more about this interesting ensemble from musical director Robert Martin

The Belfast-based Irish Video Game Orchestra will be performing famous video game scores during this month's Out to Lunch Festival

LOOKING for something different to expand your cultural repertoire this year? Look no further than this year's Out to Lunch Festival at Belfast's Cathedral Quarter – and in particular, the sound of The Irish Video Game Orchestra (IVGO).

Brought together by their mutual love of video games and their music, this semi-professional outfit are dedicated to bringing new audiences to orchestral music while performing the scores from famous games like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros and Final Fantasy.

What is your background Robert and can you tell me when and how the Irish Video Game Orchestra came to be?

I'm originally from a small suburb of Washington DC and grew up surrounded by music. I completed an undergraduate degree in pipe organ, and then came to Belfast, fuelled by the need for adventure, to complete an MA in Arts Management at Queen's University Belfast (QUB).

It was during my time at QUB that I had the idea of doing a video game concert during Q-Con (a local convention at QUB put on by the gaming and anime society).

After a bit of convincing, they were completely on board, and we had our first concert in June of 2015. The reception was so great, the orchestra decided to continue on, and that brings us to today.

Are there many video game orchestras across the world?

There are quite a few in the United States, most notably the Gamer Symphony Orchestra at University of Maryland, and the Game Music Ensemble at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Some have popped up in Japan and eastern Asia. In Europe there are two including ourselves, the other being in Ukraine.

With Classic FM now having their own weekly video game music programme, is the genre becoming more popular?

Absolutely. With the nature of soundtracks and scores changing and becoming more complex, video game music is now showing up in all genres of music.

Is it mainly film composers who create the music for video games, or does it tend to be more experimental, new artists creating them?

You'll see a few film composers cross over, but most composers for video games tend to work mainly in the video game industry exclusively.

Especially now, with the advances of technology from the original Super Mario titles, live recordings of orchestras and bands are able to be used rather than a midi sequence on a sound card that was programmed in.

How many members are in your orchestra? Are they also involved in other ensembles?

Currently, we have about 35 members in the orchestra. Some are involved with other orchestras such as the Ballymena Chamber Orchestra, Queen's University Symphony Orchestra, Cross Border Orchestra of Ireland, the Irish Film and Pops Orchestra, as well as a handful of others.

What can we expect at your Out 2 Lunch gig in Belfast?

Our Out 2 Lunch gig will be one of our more intimate concerts, featuring our principle string players and brass – mainly due to space limitations.

Are your audiences normally game fans?

Our audience is a healthy mix of gamers and orchestra fans. What's brilliant about what we do is that many gamers have never been to a live orchestra performance, so we're literally creating a new audience for the symphony.

For orchestra fans, they will find bits of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich throughout these arrangements, as a lot of current orchestral video game scores are derivative of classical music.

Are you all avid gamers yourselves and do you combine practice with video game competitions?

How have we not had a Mario Kart Tournament yet? Most of us are gamers. Some come to play just for the fun of it, and then fall in love with the music. We have a few social nights, but for some reason, we don't really game together... yet.

What gigs have you planned for 2018?

We're hoping to do an Ireland tour in the spring and we'll be back in Belfast over the summer. In the autumn, I'm hoping we will tour in Britain.

What are your ambitions for The Irish Video Game Orchestra?

In either 2018 or 2019, we'll make the jump to the studio and in the future I'd like to see the IVGO become an option for composers who need to record an orchestra for games and film.

What is your favourite video game to play and to listen to?

The Legend of Zelda for both. It's probably my favourite music due to the nostalgia of playing Ocarina of Time as a kid. But hearing those tunes in a fully orchestrated score from Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sends shivers down my spine.

What games are you looking forward to being released in 2018?

Certain members of the orchestra would say the Final Fantasy VII remake, but for myself, I would say either Ori and the Will of the Wisps or Kingdom Hearts 3.

Both have incredible artwork, wonderful game play, and the music is stunning.

:: The Irish Video Game Orchestra play Belfast's Black Box on January 13 as part of the Out To Lunch Arts Festival. Tickets from

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