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Review: Hans Zimmer Live, London 2017

Updated: Jul 20, 2020

Last June, we were privileged enough to experience the marvel that is Hans Zimmer‘s film music live in London’s SSE Arena. It was a night of wonderment and overwhelming emotion.


The show opened with ‘Driving’ from Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and I had a sudden unrelenting feeling I wasn’t going to recognise much of the music that night, as it’s all too easy to forget Hans Zimmer had a thriving career before The Lion King (1994). Featuring a smaller than expected group of musicians, I felt particularly underwhelmed and a sudden pang of regret buying these tickets. Only to add to the dismay was the fact we were sat right at the back, out of the acoustic sweet spot. Then the curtain dropped to reveal a massive orchestra resulting in an inundation of overpowering emotion, not even a wisp of regret remained.

If I were to select a few highlights of an incredible (and jam-packed) show, the first would be the performance of the gorgeous ‘Now We Are Free’ which was sadly short of the incredible and underrated singer/composer Lisa Gerrard who only joined Zimmer during the Australian leg of the tour. Gerrard co-composed the piece along with other pieces in the Gladiator (2000) underscore (which incidentally won Zimmer an Oscar while Gerrard remained uncredited and ignored). ‘Now We Are Free’ consists of Gerrard’s velvety, warm vocals and lyricism made up of her self-invented language which she so charmingly describes as ‘the language of the Heart’.(1) On the night, the piece was sung by the talented Czarina Russel.

It would be criminal not to mention the entrance of Lebo M. who sang The Lion King opening sequence followed by ‘Circle of Life’. It was a true spectacle experiencing the opening sequence being sung live by the very man who featured in the film. Zimmer introduced the piece by telling the compelling story behind the discovery of Lebo M. who began his American life washing cars.

The reminiscences of The Lion King were followed by four pieces from the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which is the score that introduced me to Zimmer. My previous experiences of Zimmer’s music in films such as The Lion King were too early for me to appreciate. Pirates of the Caribbean was released around the time I began to appreciate film music, when I began listening to films rather than watching them. It was the first time I watched the commentaries on the DVD extras, which provided an in-depth insight into the creative process and musical relationship between Zimmer and director Gore Verbinski.  My favourite pieces in particular being ‘Parlay’ (based on Ennio Morricone‘s classic ‘Man With A Harmonica’) and the magical ‘At Wit’s End’.

As the show was nearing its end point, they performed the next Zimmer film score I found particularly inspirational early on, The Dark Knight (2008), in particular ‘Why So Serious?’. They began the set with the incredibly haunting, spine-tinglingly sharp piece, performed on the electric cello by the talented Tina Guo.

To end the show, they performed possibly his most stunning score yet – Interstellar (2014). All it takes is that crescendoing elongated organ chord to send tingles down my spine. A truly staggering and extraordinarily powerful soundtrack. It was a profoundly unforgettable event to experience those pieces live. Words cannot describe.

Sadly, to avoid missing the last train back to our hotel, we were forced to miss the encore which took the shape of three pieces from the astounding Inception (2010) soundtrack.

Other than the fantastic music, I was particularly captivated by the hybrid of traditional and contemporary elements of the performance. The orchestra itself consisted of a mixture of traditional and contemporary instruments. It included a choir, strings, brass, one woodwind soloist, timpani and other percussion such as a marimba, and a piano. Plus, a drum kit, four or five electric guitars, an electric bass, two electric violinists, an electric cellist, and two or three solo vocalists. There were also some electronic sounds. It was a great hybrid of traditional and contemporary musical elements, as if he has taken the ‘best bits’ of each, creating an extraordinary concoction.

You could say the same about the setting – traditional rules were broken. A traditional concept in a pop concert setting. The audience whooped and whistled; they clapped at points which should have been silent; there was no ‘don’t clap between movements’ rule. He nodded to tradition by employing a semi-circle shape on the screen backdrop, synonymous to the arch of a concert hall shell, as well as including an interval. It’s also interesting to comment on the varied types of individuals who attended. A mixture of those who frequent classical music concerts and film enthusiasts. The audience had a very wide age-range and, I’m sure, a wide range in musical tastes; those who whooped and whistled seemed to have been accustomed to pop concert practices.

Few composers and critics speak highly of Zimmer, however his popularity is irrefutable with film fanatics and the directors with whom he has worked. This show was a truly extraordinary and goose-bump-inducing experience.


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