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Hans Zimmer
Manchester Arena
29 May 2016

Whether they know him by name or not, the music of Hans Zimmer has arguably been heard by almost every cinemagoer across the globe. The German composer and music producer has a strong work ethic, and an even stronger back catalogue, with over 120 film scores to his name. He arrives in Manchester on the tail end of his first ever European tour, along with an orchestra and choir featuring of many of his career-long collaborators and friends.
The evening begins with the whimsical Driving from Driving Miss Daisy, which commences with melodic strings and is layered with light, cheery woodwind notes. This is a gentle opening to a three hour spectacular that unfolds to reveal a substantial cross-section of Zimmer’s staggering body of work. It must sadly make some noticeable omissions – including his award-winning work on 12 Years A Slave and The Last Samurai – but this only highlights the array of options available to him when compiling a set list.

When greeting the audience, Zimmer is proud yet modest, taking pleasure from regaling them with anecdotes. He speaks fondly of his friendship and working relationship with the late Tony Scott before introducing Roll Tide from Crimson Tide, describing the trust such directors would come to have in his capabilities when seeking music for their latest blockbuster.

After the dramatic choral chants of 160 BPM from Angels and Demons, the captivating vocalist Czarina Russell takes centre stage during a medley of tracks from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. This culminates in a hauntingly beautiful rendition of Now We Are Free, with Russell’s voice soaring above the tender accompaniment of strings and piano.

The marimba-led You’re So Cool from True Romance is a soothing appetiser for the barrage of intensity that is to follow

Immediately after the final notes of Chevaliers de Sangreal from The Da Vinci Code fade, an unintroduced but immediately recognisable vocal cry emerges from the side of the stage. It is Lebohang Morake, the “voice of The Lion King”, as he is later labelled by Zimmer. His rendition of Circle Of Life is a definite highlight and goes some way to overshadow the nonetheless impressive Pirates of the Caribbean medley which follows it as the first half finale.

After the intermission, the marimba-led You’re So Cool from True Romance is a soothing appetiser for the barrage of intensity that is to follow. The show regrettably loses its rhythm momentarily with a well-meaning showcase for newlywed band members Ann Marie Calhoun and Mike Einziger from Incubus. They are given a carte blanche by Zimmer to perform something of their choosing, which is a surprise on each night of the tour, even for Zimmer himself. Unfortunately, the short bluegrass arrangement they opt for feels sadly lacklustre in comparison to what has been presented during the first half of the show. The gesture is nevertheless commendable given the circumstances, but the steel drums and pan pipes of Rain Man Theme performed afterwards would’ve provided a far smoother transition following the opening track.

Ahead of an electro medley from three different films, it becomes apparent that Manchester’s own Johnny Marr has casually appeared on stage for the second half of the show. As a recent collaborator with Zimmer, the composer jokingly points the finger at the former guitarist of The Smiths and blames him for coming up with the idea of going on tour. Regardless of where responsibility lies, the idea was undoubtedly a good one, as What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World? from Man Of Steel proves, with its rousing theatrics and heart pounding drums. Following this, Journey To The Line from The Thin Red Line showcases a slow-building and poignant score, while The Electro Suite from The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a full-throttle assault of armour-piercing electronica and machine gun-like guitars.

An exquisitely orchestrated sample of music from Interstellar acts as a fitting finale

The final three sections of the show feature Zimmer’s most applauded work in recent years. He begins with The Dark Knight, with Why So Serious? providing genuine tension and a sense of urgency. Later, the composer breaks proceedings to speak of his time working with Christopher Nolan and to pay respect to the late Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal of The Joker in the film. He also commemorates the tragic victims of a shooting during a screening of the film in Aurora, Colorado, after which he leads a bittersweet performance of Aurora; a specially composed choral arrangement of The Dark Knight Rises theme.

An exquisitely orchestrated sample of music from Interstellar acts as a fitting finale to the second half of the performance, perfectly encapsulating the film’s futuristic theme and moments of despair. Thankfully, there is still more to come, with an encore from Inception, which is a sight to behold. Dream Is Collapsing sees all members of the orchestra contributing to a score of such vast force that the arena struggles to hold it within, whilst Mombasa features tense strings, erratic electronic sounds and heavy, tribal drums. Time is a truly moving score that ends both the film and the evening’s performance. After several minutes performing sweeping waves of emotion, the orchestra’s involvement in the piece diminishes, leaving just Zimmer on the piano alongside cellist Tina Guo. During the closing moments, the audience is silenced by nothing more than two notes played repeatedly before a solitary and dramatic swipe of the bow concludes a simplistic yet masterful ending.

The performance is an eternally memorable experience from one of the truly great film composers of our era, finely crafted with perfectionism throughout, but its success is very much an ensemble achievement. On stage, Zimmer is gifted with an orchestra who need little orchestration, with their combined efforts providing a level of drama equal to, if not greater than, that of the films the music accompanies.

Stuart Holmes

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