Do you love movies like The Dark Knight? The Gladiator? Pirates of the Caribbean? Inception? Interstellar? If you do, chances are that you remember their fantastic soundtracks. They all have one thing in common: they are made by the same guy. And he is touring Europe right now.
Saturday 7th of May 2016 I had the privilege of going to watch Hans Zimmer live in tour at Prague’s O2 Arena. It was a hard-fought privilege, since the event was basically sold out already in January, and to buy one of the few remaining tickets I had to shell out an arm and a leg. But I had to do it: I am a big lover of movie soundtracks, and especially Hans Zimmer’s work.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1957, he is really one of the musical geniuses of our times. Incredibly versatile as a composer – able to go from religious music to electro-techno in a blink – he is also a capable polystrumentist, and live on stage he plays the piano, synth, guitar and a banjo (as far as I was able to see).
The list of his soundtracks on IMDB is just endless. He scored a number of smash-hit blockbuster hits that is just unbelieavable. If you love a movie for its music, there is a high chance he would have scored it. After names like Ennio Morricone and John Williams of the first generation (from whom he took inspiration) he is probably the most notable composer in activity.
And very prolific, too! His career took off in 1988 when he composed the score for The Rain Man – which won the Best Movie Oscar for that year. Since, then, it’s been one amazing hit after another, with The Last Samurai being his 100th score (and one that I particularly love), until his most recent work with “Batman vs Superman” – while the movie received mixed reviews (I loved it), its soundtrack is just another masterpiece that completely hits the spot.
Ah, by the way, do you know this piece?
Ramin Djawadi, itscomposer, started as one of Hans Zimmer’s apprentices. Apprentices. Just saying, he is that cool.
I listen to his music when I go running (that is, not so often), when I am studying or working at the desk (that is, a lot more often), when I am travelling… so when I knew there was the possibility to watch it LIVE I just knew I had to go.
So: was it worth it? Absolutely YES – without a doubt!
Zimmer is touring the whole Europe with some 60 dates in a very intensive tour. Armed with all this knowledge and forethoughts, I was happily making my way to the O2 Arena.
One of the cool things of Prague is that people use the metro to go just about everywhere. No need for car, traffic, parking… just a smooth 30 minutes ride and I was at the Arena. And I knew I was clearly not alone while the crowd started to gather.
It became clear that the doors were still closed. The concert was supposed to start at 8 pm, and at 7.45 the gates were still closed. Oh well…
As time approached, the excitement of the crowd was growing. And so was the density of people per square meter. You had the impression you were getting closer to the gates, but in fact you were only getting more squeezed.
So, as I was waiting, I started to wonder about this guy, Zimmer – who started off with electro-pop and collaborated with the Buggles – yes, that’s right. You can actually see him playing the synth starting at minute 2:50 in 1981’s “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
That same guy, now looks like this.
It’s true, for some people the passing of time is a blessing. I shouldn’t lose all my hope. As a fifty years old, I will be awesome. (All I need to do is to become a Hollywood superstar: easy).
So, finally the gates open! And we have to go through security checks… aaaagh, just like in the airport all over again.
Only, the whole procedure was waaay more relaxed. Everybody just wanted to get in. Once inside, I felt a lot reassured that a staff of professionals was in charge of our security.
Just a few seconds to have a look at the merchandising shop – pretty underwhelming, I have to say. They didn’t have the only thing I was really interested in buying (a cd with the best scores by HZ). Only t-shirts, posters, mugs and a bunch of other not really interesting gadgets. The most curious of all, a t-shirt with the Superman logo shaped in a Z letter (instead of a S). A bit weird. I am sorry I didn’t take a picture of if.
And in fact, the place was not exactly assaulted by fans. The guy was there all alone and looked a bit bored. Ok, merchandising not great. Let’s move on.
It’s time to get in! From my seat on the ground level (in sector 4) I could have a pretty good sight of the stage and musicians, although to be honest if I had known better the arena layout I would have opted for a higher-up seat, to have a better point of view. But it didn’t matter so much at that point: the music started!
Zimmer on stage reveals himself as a real performer. He talks and interacts a lot with the audience, telling many interesting anecdotes and behind the scene stories about his career, the relationship with film legends like Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan and Terrence Malick and the making of so many great movies. Every such moment is just pure pleasure for any movie fan.
My phone takes absolutely horrible videos in low light and loud sounds – exactly the concert settings, right? So instead of uploading my (awful) attempts, I will shamelessly link all the videos uploaded for example by the Youtube user Andrés Felipe Lices Valbuena, recorded live in Birmingham (and other sources from London, Berlin, and probably more). Thank you, my unknown friends! May your work live long on the internet!
The concert opens with a mash-up with Driving Mrs Daisy, Sherlock Holmes and Madagascar. What strikes from the beginning is the massive presence on stage: Hans himself is not shy of performing front stage, shifting from piano to keyboard to guitar, together with a very respectable violin and cello section, an impressive drummer, and added solo guitarist, percussions.
He was supported by a symphonic orchestra, and this is how the first piece sounded and looked like.
Then he moved to introducing Crimson Tide (directed by Tony Scott), and for the occasion the curtain is lifted to reveal the Czech National Choir (which, in Prague, was receiving the house honors) with another 24 elements on stage. The impressive voice and orchestra melded into the score from Angels and Demons.
It was an impressive show, able to involve fully the audience from the visual point of view and not only from the auditory one. Lights and stage effects were playing in a fantastic way to enhance the music and suggest even more emotions.
Another quick anecdote introduced The Gladiator. When he told his wife that he was working on a movie about gladiators with Ridley Scott, her only comment was a moment of silence, followed by: “You, boys”.
Which reminded the team that the story needed a strong feminine soul. It was the editor Pietro Scalia who proposed a female voice for what later became the super famous “Now we are free”. In the original movie soundtrack, the song was performed by Lisa Gerrard (not in the tour version). The live version was able to give us shivers. I promise, one could almost touch the tigers!
More emotions were to come with a violin concert piece from The Da Vinci Code.
Quickly followed by The Lion King (1990). Now I was surprised to realise that this is the only soudtrack for which he received an Oscar (the Academy has strange tastes sometimes), out of 9 nominations. He can also count 2 Golden Globes awards (The Lion King, The Gladiator) and 10 nominations.
This is the bit where he got a little political, which I appreciated. When introducing the “soul” singer for The Lion King, Lebohang “Lebo M” Morake, Zimmer remembered that at the time of the movie, the singer was in the US as a political refugee from South Africa.
“Times were hard at the time” – he added – “and the situation has not improved much today, but from South Africa to Prague, we have gone really far”. I appreciated the reference, and I hope the audience did as well. Central Europe is growing more and more xenophobic these days and a bit of reflection, as much as a concert can do, was certainly welcome.
Next, the Pirates of the Caribbean suite was introduced as an impressive cello and accordion concert.
Which was followed by an intermission.
Fantastic! The audience was estatic at this point. The concert was beyond expectations, with every suite arranged in an original way that mixed influences from rock, pop, classical and electronic music. The suggestions from the original movie sountracks were all in the right places, but the live concert was able to give unexpected pleasant surprises. Great, great!
I took the opportunity of the short break for a few selfies from the Arena (what else),
and to have a closer look at the stage. That is the piano that Zimmer plays on stage. Nothing very impressive, right?
and to stick my nose in the director’s backstage area.
Then, it was time to start again for the second part. A suite combined parts from True Romance and Rain Man:
Followed by another original mix, between Man of Steel and The Thin Red Line (the latter is still one of his most impressive works, I think).
As a showcase of Zimmer’s versatility, what followed was “Electro” from The Amazin Spider Man 2, presented as a suite for clarinet. Here is clear how the electronic influences are still strong with the Maestro.
And then for something completely different. The score from The Dark Knight was really able to evoke all the atmosphere of Nolan’s Batman trilogy: mystery, fear, dark powers. Zimmer wanted to pay homage on stage to the impressive performance given by Heath Ledger as The Joker, and to the tragic facts of the 2012 Aurora shooting, when at the premiere for The Dark Knight Rises, a gunman opened fire in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people. Such a meaningless tragedy inspired Zimmer to compose a piece for choir, titled Aurora.
Next, the suite for Interstellar created a very strong change of note. The organs and epic suggestions brought a religious awe on the audience, perfectly recalling the suggestions from the very ambitious movie about space exploration. In the contrast between The Dark Knight and Interstellar is really clear how versatile and gifted is the talent of this composer.
And that was it! Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen. End of the concert, that’s it, right?
No way, a prolonged standing ovation “forced” a well-anticipated encore with the Inception suite. Well placed at the end, since it’s probably the most acclaimed of all Zimmer’s compositions.
And so that was it. Two hours of live music full of suggestions, emotions and stories. A memorable experience. There are even more pieces that I love and I wish had found their place in the concert’s programme (one above all, The Last Samurai which I think is one of his best ever), but of course it would be impossible to summarise 20+ years of career, and some 130 soundtracks in a single concert.
I leave the Arena fully satisfied and electrified, very happy to have witnessed the live exhibition of such a gifted musician. Thank you for reading!