‘Hans Zimmer Revealed’
Live at the Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith (10 October performance)

The eightieth birthday of the legendary Hollywood film composer John Williams in 2012 gave several major symphony orchestras in this country, among them the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), license to programme special concerts dedicated to his music. The big theme pieces of his repertoire — Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial — in mood bright, lively and romantic compositions, guaranteed high audience turnouts for both the RPO (John Williams: 80th birthday tribute to the world’s leading film composer, Royal Albert Hall 2012, 2014) and LSO (Music for the big screen: the best of John Williams, Barbican Hall 2012) events; and indeed these works have formed internationally the backbone of the many other Williams sets performed live in recent years — cf. concerts in Chicago (2008), Cleveland (2012), Massachusetts (2012), San Pedro (2012), Hong Kong (2012) and Deauville (2012). Meanwhile, the BBC Concert Orchestra and LSO recently developed successful programmes showcasing the work of Danny Elfman (Danny Elfman’s music from the films of Tim Burton, Royal Albert Hall 2013) and Patrick Doyle (LSO on film: celebrating the music of Patrick Doyle, Barbican Hall 2013), with the former — a world premiere here, which included personal contributions from Elfman as well as actress Helena Bonham Carter — returning in December, this time with the London Concert Orchestra. However, these high-profile events warranted, disappointingly, only brief guest appearances from their star composers — the few exceptions being the performance live of Clint Mansell with his band for an audience at a far smaller venue (Clint Mansell film music from the Grammy and Golden Globe-nominated British composer, Barbican Hall 2014) and the debut of David Arnold (David Arnold: live in concert, Royal Festival Hall 2014).

Hans Zimmer Revealed (Hammersmith Apollo, 10-11 October 2014) promotes change in this sort of commercial programming. Though structurally the programming conformed to traditional models (a repertoire of familiar music cues written for middle-budget films and commercial blockbusters, each given their own introduction by an announcer), the event was tailored to attract a larger number of attendees by altering performance location, presentation and musical style. Promoter Harvey Goldsmith’s foreword in the concert programme leans heavily on this distinction: “There are a number of touring concerts with orchestras playing film music with the movie projected … Tonight, Hans will be presenting his music, his way” (my emphasis).

Thus rather than having a concert host present works in an ‘appropriate’ fashion (Tommy Pearson’s slightly awkward commentary for the John Williams: 80th birthday tribute in 2012 is a typical example), here Zimmer introduced the pieces himself, combining personal anecdotes about his early professional work (director Barry Levinson doorstepped Zimmer at his London-based studio Lillie Yard one evening to discuss his forthcoming production Rain Man) with stories about the modern entertainment industry (Zimmer approached singer/musician Lisa Gerrard to collaborate on Gladiator, but was turned down initially because the artist had just completed work on another Russell Crowe film, The Insider). In an interesting artistic shift which also enhanced the individuality of the event, Zimmer assumed a confessional tone (in a seemingly spontaneous outpouring similar to the popular dramatic monologues of Bruce Springsteen) in the middle of one set. The voice was still that of Zimmer the artist, Zimmer the composer, but the intimate tone of his to-audience storytelling reflected the sensitivity and importance of his subject (the death of film star Heath Ledger in 2008; the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012 – “this is not just a career, it’s a life, it’s the life we live together and we become this family”).

South-African singer Lebo M. joins composer Hans Zimmer onstage for a rendition of The Lion King (1994)

Another factor to consider in this non-traditional approach is the incorporation (and promotion) of so many soloists from Zimmer’s studio Remote Control Productions. This, broadly speaking, is not an unorthodox practice. Additional ensembles play vital roles in traditional programming, and the appearances of guest soloists will necessitate at least two major solo cues to justify their artistic fees. (For example, violinist Carmine Lauri performing ‘Remembrances,’ ‘Jewish Town’ and ‘Main Theme’ from Schindler’s List (1993) for the LSO’s Music for the big screen: the best of John Williams.) The difference with Zimmer and director Peter Asher’s approach is that, wonderfully, they required their soloists to be active performers, and indeed some of the most appealing music cues were choreographed to highlight their endless contributions, as each made a grand display of a violin, guitar or cello. Of the many artists highlighted by Zimmer, five were absolutely unforgettable:
• Ann Marie Simpson-Calhoun, who was a contributing writer on Sherlock Holmes (2009) and its sequel A Game of Shadows (2011), in addition to her role as featured violin soloist on other Zimmer-recordings for Man of Steel (2013), 12 Years a Slave (2013) and The Lone Ranger (2013);
• Aleksey Igudesman who was, likewise, a featured violinist on Sherlock Holmes, with recording credits on non-Zimmer films, such as The Road to El Dorado (2000) and Spanglish (2004);
• Richard Harvey, whose relationship with Zimmer (in his capacity as woodwinds musician) extends back to The Lion King (1994) and includes recordings for Kingdom of Heaven (2005), The Da Vinci Code (2006) and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008);
• Czarina Russell, who began work for Zimmer as score co-ordinator on Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and is credited as a studio manager on over fifty other feature films; she was most recently the female vocalist on Zimmer’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014);
• and Nick Glennie-Smith, a long-time collaborator and prolific composer/conductor, who has worked on almost all of Zimmer’s soundtracks, from The Rock (1996, composer) and Crimson Tide (1995, additional music), through Gladiator (2000, additional music) and Hannibal (2001, additional music), to Man of Steel (2013, conductor) and Transformers – Age of Extinction (2014, conductor).
Much of the focus here went on the two violinists Simpson and Igudesman (unsurprisingly, given Simpson’s proven flair for performance and Igudesman’s ‘other’ career as one half of the comedy duo Igudesman & Joo) — their ‘scene’-stealing moments, as each artist played across and spurred on the other (often taking centre-stage in order to do so), bolstered the rousing, celebratory mood of Zimmer’s major anthems. In addition, one of the most refreshing aspects of Hans Zimmer Revealed was its technical production. The lighting design (produced by industry expert Marc Brickman) was characterised by striking colours, selective blackouts (which threw controlled sections of the stage into darkness) and intense strobe lighting — techniques befitting of a modern rock concert as opposed to the traditional theatrical lighting of a Barbican or Albert Hall event.

Composer Hans Zimmer and soloist Ann Marie Simpson-Calhoun performing 'Discombobulate' from Sherlock Holmes

For me personally, the highpoints of past events have involved old familiar friends: music cues that have been with us for years (if not for most of our lifetime, via different formats and media), which when performed for us live have us positively levitating in our seats, the entire piece singing within us

The evening began with a selection of music cues which successfully established Zimmer, his band, the orchestra and then chorus in a sleek introduction: a lively ensemble piece (‘Driving’) from Driving Miss Daisy (1989) featuring Zimmer on piano; the upbeat deliberately untidy Holmes theme (‘Discombobulate’) from Sherlock Holmes (with Zimmer on banjo); a strings-based fast-tempo piece (‘Zoosters Breakout’) from Madagascar (2005) that unveiled the full symphony just beyond the band; and an impressive display of the Crouch End Festival Chorus for the towering Crimson Tide (1995) piece ‘Roll Tide’. This segued into the flamboyant midsection of Act One: an extended rendition of the main theme (‘160 BPM’) from Angels and Demons (2009) with drum solo by percussionist Satnam Ramgotra; a suite of themes from Gladiator featuring mezzo-soprano Miriam Blennerhassett (‘The Wheat’, ‘The Battle’, ‘Honour Him’, ‘Now We Are Free’); and the slow-building anthem ‘Chevaliers de Sangreal’ from The Da Vinci Code (2006). The ensemble was perhaps at its best in a special rendition of ‘Circle of Life’ from The Lion King, which brought together Czarina Russell (as vocalist) with the wonderful South-African singer Lebo M (Lebohang Morake). In the final piece before the intermission, Zimmer highlighted Tristan Schulze on the cello for a turbulent, at times bittersweet, set from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels Dead Man’s Chest (‘Jack Sparrow’) and At World’s End (‘Up Is Down’).

For Act Two, ostensibly the freer session of the evening allowing for some experimentation, Zimmer took care to include more of his guest musicians and Remote Control Productions artists in the frame. Opening the first set: the always delightful ‘You Are So Cool’ from True Romance (1993), foregrounding percussionists Frank Ricotti and Gary Kettle; an otherworldly piece from Rain Man (1988) in which synthesisers and steel drums mix with pan pipes; and a show-piece (again) for Russell in the form of Green Card (1990), a grandiose work which embellished the melodies and oriental tones of the original cue ‘Instinct’. The midsection combined two show-off set pieces: ‘What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?’ from Man Of Steel, and ‘Journey To The Line’ from The Thin Red Line (1998). In the final set, violinist Igudesman delivered a simultaneously impressive and hair-raising performance as the schizophrenic voice of ‘My Enemy’ from this year’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (on the subsequent evening of the 11th, Pharrell Williams performed his Oscar-nominated ‘Happy’ from Despicable Me 2 (2013), and relieved Igudesman as vocalist on ‘My Enemy’); and lastly, Zimmer’s rampaging Dark Knight suite included The Dark Knight’s (2008) ‘Why So Serious?’, which drew melodies briefly from ‘Like A Dog Chasing Cars’ and ‘Introduce A Little Anarchy’, and from The Dark Knight Rises (2012) the music cue ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’, in which Zimmer himself led the memorable chanting effect (an aspect of the soundtrack much publicised prior to release) — this successfully brought the ensemble to a point where they could introduce ‘Aurora’, Zimmer’s “heartfelt tribute to the victims and families” of the Colorado shootings noted above (and see, ‘Hans Zimmer composes song for Aurora shooting victims’, Hollywood Reporter, Tina Daunt, 2012). An encore then turned us to the project for which Zimmer is perhaps most revered and sadly reviled: Inception (2010). The suite combined ‘Dream Is Collapsing’, the energetic ‘Mombasa’ and the comparatively subtle ‘Time.’

Hans Zimmer receives a standing ovation at the close of his concert, Hans Zimmer Revealed

A kind of non-traditional film concert then — combining modern compositions with ‘new’ renditions of mid-1990s classic scores — Hans Zimmer Revealed delivered on at least two fronts: it showcased the talents of Remote Control artists, particularly Ann Marie Simpson-Calhoun and Aleksey Igudesman, giving them ample space to thrill and entertain audiences with their dynamic performances; secondly, it gave Zimmer a forum to present his own compositions in a knockabout way that sits, if not arrogantly, then uneasily alongside the other conservative programmes of film music still lined up for the remainder of the year. The musical selection, though broadly predictable, was also very well received. For me personally, the highpoints of past events have involved old familiar friends: music cues that have been with us for years (if not for most of our lifetime, via different formats and media), which when performed for us live in a room of thousands or a few hundred have us positively levitating in our seats, the entire piece singing within us. With Hans Zimmer Revealed I felt very much a reversal of this tendency, the cues which I consider to be ‘old friends’ passing me by, leaving little or no impression: Gladiator failed, perhaps unsurprisingly, to match the sheer strength and stomp of the Philharmonia Film Orchestra’s performance of Gladiator Live earlier this year (Royal Albert Hall, 2014), which did itself feature a star appearance by an impeccable Lisa Gerrard; similarly, ‘Journey to the Line’ from The Thin Red Line, for some a standout piece that evening, failed to move me as once it certainly did in my teens, its repetitive nature and simplicity a bit underwhelming to me now. Suffice to say, the more pulse-racing, bass-pounding tunes which Zimmer assembled for his recent collaborations with Christopher Nolan, and to an extent Gore Verbinski, electrified the crowd and impressed the most. Dark Knight I enjoyed immensely, as well as cues I hadn’t previously heard, such as Green Card and Madagascar; and with both Richard Harvey and Lebo M onstage together, you can imagine how utterly uplifting the ensemble’s rendition of The Lion King turned out to be. The sense of fun that was persistent throughout this performance, for me returned again in ‘What Are You Going To Do When You Are Not Saving The World?’, the slow-build crescendo from Man Of Steel — and so much took me by surprise with this piece: the emphatic violin work of Simpson particularly (but Igudesman also) sits with me still as a lasting image, the wild drum rhythm of Ramgotra, the slick guitar riff played by Johnny Marr (who has worked with Zimmer on the soundtracks for Inception and The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and Zimmer himself at the keyboard. And though ‘My Enemy’ erupted with a force and mania that coloured pretty much everything that followed it (some soundtrack fans have complained that it had no place in the repertoire at all), it nonetheless served a purpose in reflecting the tastes of Zimmer as a programmer of unconventional music (Goldsmith: “his music, his way”).

I confess to loving the sheer volume of sound here — this was the one performance in over a dozen now that I’ve attended in which causing myself actual hearing loss might well have been on the cards throughout the course of the evening! Add to this an impressive line-up of soloists and some very well rehearsed set-pieces, and Zimmer’s ambitious debut (“his first public concert”) registers more strongly than any film concert that has preceded it. Many people have reservations about Zimmer’s material, the influence he has on the contemporary Hollywood film industry (which is seen as disproportionate compared to other star composers), and the impact of his methodology on the conventions of classical film scoring — I, for one, entered the Hammersmith Apollo expecting to be beaten over the head, and left believing I’d experienced something quite phenomenal.

Images: by me.

16 October, 2014


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