I had heard Zimmer comment in an interview around the time of Chris Nolan’s Inception in 2010 that he had been contemplating taking some time off from movie scoring to take his music around the world with a bunch of his friends and an orchestra.
I had been intrigued by this but after another seeing one move after another being added to his IMDb page, including another Pirates of the Caribbean, Sherlock 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel, 12 Years A Slave and Rush to name a few, it seemed this was going to be unlikely.
This is not to say that I wanted to stop hearing Zimmer’s scores in new movies, far from it, I just wanted to see some of his scores performed live and knew I would be interested to study the stage placement and arrangement of the band, not to mention it would simply be an amazing event should it ever actually take place.
Then I noticed that with the exception of Interstellar (Nolan’s upcoming 2014 feature, and one I’m really looking forward to), his schedule looked fairly light in comparison to the previous years. This was followed by one boring weekday afternoon sitting at my day job bored out of my mind and daydreaming about film as usual, I received an email from one of the many live event websites of which I am partied and they happened to be advertising an event called Hans Zimmer Revealed. I instantly looked into it and excitedly bought the best and most expensive seats I could afford at the time, the gig was finally actually going to happen.
The event page on Eventim (I would later find out that Eventim Apollo is actually the new name for the Hammersmith Apollo) didn’t really give away too much, I could only gather that Zimmer was to perform works spanning his entire career with a handful of musicians, an orchestra and a choir.
As I had booked the tickets so far in advance, I totally forgot about the concert and only remembered when my iPhone notified me around 6 days before the event, I then started to really look forward to it
Arrival (and no, not the intro track to Abigail by King Diamond, metal heads will appreciate this one!)
I arrived alone but was met with hundreds of people waiting outside the venue eagerly trying to get into the concert hall, eventually the doors opened, but they then held us in the foyer with nothing else to do but buy a pint, this was done on purpose I’m sure! So I lined at the bar and began firing up some conversation with some folks and happily shared my program with some students who were too skint to fork out a tenner to get their own; admittedly, I did think I had misread the sign when I glanced over and read “Programs £10”.
Interestingly, I started noting the diversity of the attendees. This is something I have always found interesting about film and film music, somehow your audience is in many ways totally unpredictable and I found myself trying to figure out which of Zimmer’s scores people were most excited to hear just by looking at them, silly I know!
Inception is a popular score and as I waiting intently among large groups of revellers, some of which were already on their second drink, I overheard many people comment, mostly with disappointment that there was no mention of the score on the program, I however was not worried…
We were there on the second evening of the two date show and just as I tend to do with the movies and listen to the score in advance of seeing the film (Something I almost always regret doing), I had spend my time on the commute to the venue watching snippets of the previous nights performance on Instagram, I knew Inception would be the encore but decided to keep this to myself.
The program also revealed that the soloists performing that evening would be amoung others Johnny Marr, Nick Glennie-Smith, Richard Harvey, Andrew Kawczynski, Steve Mazzaro, Satnam Ramgotra, Frank Ricotti, Guthrie Govan, Ann Marie Simpson, Czarina Russell, Aleksey Igudesman, Tristan Schulze, Mary Scully and Yolanda Charles. I was not unimpressed!
I decided that I didn’t really want to drink anymore so as soon as the doors opened for the stalls, I heading inside to find my seat and studied the venue. I had never been to the Apollo, it was smaller than I expected but intimate which I liked, not too hot and I could see the stage clear enough; that is of course until a very tall couple just had to be seated directly in front of me, a short-arse! While they didn’t seem too bothered, I’m sure the good people seated to the left and right of me were getting a little fed up with me towards the end with my constant leaning left and right to get a better view, but honestly, I was too immerses to care.
Lights. Camera…The First Half
Well, I can tell you now, I think the concert was fantastic and totally different to what I had expected (in a good way of course).
The lights dimmed, people cheered and then a medley of themes kicked the night off. Opening with Driving Miss Daisy, an intimate performance (or at least to begin with) consisting of the memorable synth ostinato which had started before the curtains were even raised, Hans on the piano and just a handful of instrumentalists (notably Richard Harvey on woodwinds and Nick Glennie Smith on keyboards). As the theme built and the music began to swell, a second set of curtains were raised perfectly in time with the music to reveal a string quartet and impressive battery of drums with Satnam Ramgotra at the helm; Hans later revealed that the drummer had put together the entire percussion line-up for the evening. I was excited by this as ever since I saw Satnam perform alongside Hans for the live performance of the Inception score at its Hollywood premier, I have considered him to be the man when it comes to movie/large percussion. Finishing Driving Miss Daisy, these musicians carried the music perfectly into Sherlock which saw Hans switch from piano to banjo and by the time that ended and Madagascar started, a further third layer of musicians at the back of the stage contained behind plastic walls to isolate the drums were revealed. The third layer consisted of a large string and brass section and the Crouch End Festival Chorus. This was the band, I was locked in and realised that evening was going to be every more entertaining than I had originally thought.
Throughout the show in between suites, Hans would add amusing anecdotes and tales surrounding each film, its producers/directors and the musicians he had worked with along the way. It was a great way to break up the night and it gave you enough time to process the majesty of the previous suite before hearing another.
Following the medley, I was particularly locked in yet again to the Crimson Tide performance. The Crouch End Festival Chorus added fantastic voice and once into the cue, it was the first time I heard the bombastic blasting percussion that we all know and love, Hans on the synthesisers and musicians playing at top dynamics, a force not to be reckoned with! This was followed by Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code where again I was incredibly impressed with the chorus, warmed by the lush textures of the string and brass ensembles and intrigued by the unique voices of the soloists; Gladiator of course went down a storm with Hans this time on the guitar and although Lisa Garrard could not be present, Miriam Blennerhassett did a fantastic job on the lead vocal.
Now speaking of Gladiator, I found this interesting. I had seen Gladiator at the Royal Albert Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus and Lisa Gerrard live in May, only a few months prior and while I will admit that overall I preferred hearing the score performed by a symphony orchestra, perhaps because it was more befitting to the original arrangement, Hans’s performance in many ways was more touching. It encompassed far more nuances from the solo performances (including Hans’s himself) and portrayed the earthy, organic and emotive atmospheres of the score in a more direct light.
Scores for both The Lion King and Pirates of the Caribbean were to finish the first half of the concert, and they did so on a real high note. Lebo M, the South African singer and composer whose powerful and now ironic vocal is heard in the very first frame of the animation was present and when he casually walked onto the stage and started singing the audience (including myself) went crazy. I love ethnic percussion and singing styles so for me, I was fully on board and the performers were clearly having a lot of fun, that was until that heartbreaking middle cue from ‘This Land’ dropped and knocked us all for six. After some more funny tales from Hans and with it’s swashbuckler feel, loud brass, thundering percussion and sweeping melodies, Zimmer & Friends finished the first half off with a suite from Pirates of the Caribbean. Again lots of fun, lots of jigging and bloody loud. I think both Ann-Marie Simpson and Aleksey Igudesman, Zimmer’s solo violinists for the night appeared to be having the most fun of all as they danced around the stage! In fact, Igudesman was creasing me up for most of the night with his various hats, wigs and masks which he would sport to best suit the score being performed, brilliant!
Way More Lights. Far Less Cameras…The Second Half
After a swift visit to the bar, and a couple of brief conversations and it was time for part two and I found myself even more excited to see what was in store for us.
Cameras…Now, I had planned to get some footage of the concert myself, but I decided not to. Not only were the stewards fairly militant about you doing so, regularly tapping people on the shoulder and wagging their fingers, I decided I was not going to watch the performance through an iPhone screen. Furthermore, because the Apollo is not really on a gradient as you might expect, with the seats cascading up from the front row up, every time someone had their phone or camera up in the air, it would obstruct the view for everyone behind them; this was particularly irritating for me as I was already obstructed by the two giants (well from my perspective anyway) who were seated in front of me. Luckily there was far less filming in the second half which was just as well, as things were about to get dark!
Hans opened the second half in another medley-esque style with performances of True Romance, Rainman and Green Card. Again it was a great opener which settled the audience back into the show and I loved it. The lighting had really stepped up its game, I mean, it was good in the first half, but this was something else. For example, chimes were projected onto the wall on both sides of the auditorium and each time notes were hit in the opening of Rain Man, one of the climes would illuminate in time with the music, very immersive.
From here, things got louder as we were quickly thrown into Man of Steel and The Thin Red Line, both excellent scores and performed with precision, I noted the lighting was becoming more and more intense and spilling around the entire room providing a really cinematic environment perfect for the scores.
Then something unexpected happened; we were preparing to hear the The Amazing Spider-Man 2 score, Johnny Marr had already entered the stage sometime during Man of Steel, but the audience lost their minds, even with stand ovation when Pharrell Williams jolted on and performed his track “Happy” which had been arranged for the entire orchestra. I’m not familiar with William’s solo material, I know him vaguely from the rap/metal band N.E.R.D and I loved his fantastic performance with Daft Punk on their latest highly successful release “Random Access Memories”, but I really did enjoy Happy and have since bought the album. Happy was followed by various cues from Spiderman. I had not seen the Amazing Spiderman movies and had not even listened to the score; it was fantastic! The rock/metal side mixed with harsh electronic transients thundered through the venue (Mel Wesson’s presence was defiantly felt, I didn’t see him come on, but he was now onstage with some large and very impressive looking synths), the lighting was crazy, the volume had increased and Pharrell’s vocals were being frantically panned all around the room as repeated the lyrics “Something’s Happenin, Mind destructing. Agony Inside Of Me. My Pulse Is Raising. Mental Torture. Self Destroyer. Can’t Ignore the Paranoia”. I really should watch the film…
After Hans’s talk post Spiderman and began to introduce Nolan's The Dark Knight/The Dark Knight Rises, I knew we were in for something special. The darkened room suddenly began to shake as the sub octaves from Wesson’s synths bounced around the room, again I loved it and it was the first time I had experienced that amount of bass in a small venue. As the suite developed, the lighting and visual projections were in full swing, the lights circling percussionists as they aggressively hit their drums and focusing in on soloists and ensembles as they thundered out their parts and Dark Knight-esque graphics were on all the walls, it was incredibly immersive and I don’t think I blinked throughout the entire suite.
To end the concert, Zimmer gave an emotional speech about the tragedy surrounding the Batman films, beginning with Heath Ledger’s accidental death and then the massacre in Colorado’s Aurora when a gunman walked into a cinema and began shooting people during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. As he gave his speech, the musicians began to perform Aurora, a composition that Zimmer had recorded and released in tribute following the event.
As the music came to an end, myself and the audience stood up, cheering and clapping away, I laughed as I saw some people attempting to leave as I knew Inception would follow. The curtains once again came up and the intended ending of the show began as “Half Remembered Dream”, “Dream Is Collapsing”, “Mombasa” and of course ended the show with “Time”.