The era of the soundtrack is underway. What was once an afterthought for mediums such as film and video games, now attracts thousands to see scores performed live, bringing classical styles to a brand new audience. Like Nirvana to grunge or Sex Pistols to punk there is always a poster child for a genre, a popular leader to drive the style to the masses. So, when it comes to film composers, there is no bigger poster child than Hans Zimmer. The Kurt Cobain of the soundtrack world.
So, to a sold-out show at London’s SSE Arena, the World of Hans Zimmer hits the stage. This is an orchestral reimagining of his scores, composed by Zimmer himself and conducted by longtime friend Gavin Greenway. From the very first burst of light on the screen and all-enveloping boom of the percussive drums to begin the Dark Knight score, the bombast of his music hits you hard and almost never lets up, the might of a full orchestra and choir only adding further grandeur to the sound.
This grandiosity only continues throughout the first half, allowing little room to breathe as powerful walls of sound create drama even without their accompanying visual aids. In particular the Rush and Mission Impossible scores stand out, with unrelenting drums and a rising horn section dominating the former and the latin flavour of the latter used to hair raising effect.
Towards the end of the first half, Zimmer appears on screen to introduce the Da Vinci Code, as he would often appear throughout the night to add context to his music. He explains that the version we are about to hear is closer to his original composition, a sketchbook of complicated ideas all rolled into one. What follows is the most complex suite of the night. Beginning with the eerie sounds of soprano soloist, Katharina Melnikova, it slowly builds into a complex mix of strings and choral work, that continues to swerve in directions you don’t expect. A sudden tone change as the lights turn blood red and a demonic power takes over the orchestra, eventually ending on a rousing finish. It’s this complexity that shows Zimmer at his finest. Given the creative room to experiment and play with new ideas allows him new ways to affect an audience, showcasing he doesn’t need bombast to make an impact.
The experimentation continues into the second half as some of his lesser known scores for films such as Spirit, Hannibal and Kung-Fu Panda are given moments in the spotlight. The suites from these scores continue to evidence Zimmer’s point, that music is play and when you’re allowed to play, beautiful music will follow.
This section culminates in a beautiful rendition of the Lion King suite. Showcasing the awareness the soundtrack had of the historic and troubled rise of Nelson Mandela during that time as well as Zimmer’s personal connection to the song and his father, it flips through highlights of Disney classic, ending on an empowering performance of the infamous ‘Circle of Life’ that even the hardiest of hearts would break for.
The final trio of songs really show the impact the eight-time oscar nominee has had on the soundtrack world. First came Gladiator with Lisa Gerrard, the original singer from the score, her powerful, operatic vocals soaring above lush orchestration. Next, a sombre rendition of ‘Time’ from the Inception soundtrack, a beautiful weighty piece of music that was played live to the backdrop of Zimmer performing it in his studio, making him feel evermore present in his music.
Finally came the instantly recognisable Pirates of the Caribbean suite, which even brought a touch of humour to the music. Brash, playful and catchy, it highlights the breadth of Zimmer’s musical versatility and rightly brought the audience to their feet. The soundtrack era may be upon us, but Zimmer’s world has been with us for decades and we are all lucky to be living in it.