Hans Zimmer concert brings silver screen to life


As far as sweeping overgeneralizations go, claiming most people are familiar with Hans Zimmer’s music—even if they’ve never heard of him—is among the safest to make. The legendary composer has defined a generation of filmmaking, and on Aug. 6 he showcased his legacy at Denver’s 1stBank Center.

A concert honoring film scores has no choice but to be performed theatrically. The orchestra was tiered to create a 10-foot-tall wall of musicians and classic instruments; key players, like Tina Guo­­­—the orchestra’s most famous electric cellist—stood adjacent to Zimmer as he wielded his own arsenal of guitars, basses, and soundboards.

The light show was frenetic enough to earn itself an epilepsy warning, capturing only snapshots of the artists who threw their whole bodies into their performances. Because the light show was so well choreographed to the show’s emotional tones, it felt like a necessary visual layer rather than mere stage theatrics. Because it’s been Zimmer’s lifelong goal to make orchestral music “cool” again, his compositions and performances feature as many electric guitars and drum kits as they do violins and flutes.

Having regularly collaborated with Disney, DC, and Marvel, Zimmer is a pop culture darling. His work on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise remains one of the most iconic themes of the new century, and “Is She With You?”—the Wonder Woman theme he debuted in Batman v. Superman—is likely the closest a contemporary orchestral track has gotten to going viral. At his live show, however, he flips his undeniable notoriety on its head.

Zimmer does not take the stage to play his most famous pieces straight—instead, he unleashes them. From The Lion King to Interstellar, every performance was freed from the thematic restraints of their respective narratives, and Zimmer used his original compositions as a skeletal framework to create even more daring arrangements.

During The Lion King Suite, Zimmer welcomed Lebo M.—one of the lead vocalists for the original 1994 film—to sing all but one verse of “Circle of Life” in Zulu rather than English. Other tracks, like “This Land” and “King of Pride Rock,” were newly infused with Zimmer’s preferred electronica sound. The result is a performance that honors fans’ dedications to the original recordings by giving them an entirely new way to hear them—the music pieces evolved from background accompaniments to main characters in their own right.

Zimmer’s talent is such that his work elevates even the most critically disparaged films. “Chevaliers de Sangreal,” a haunting, ethereal track that was wasted on The Da Vinci Code,  has come to stand on its own as one of Zimmer’s most powerful pieces. Before performing it, he discussed how he wrote the composition while sitting at a coffee shop facing the Louvre Museum in Paris: “As I stared at the modern glass pyramid standing opposite of the museum’s classical structure, I knew I wanted to use electronica to bridge the two visuals.” Similarly, “The Electro Suite” is probably the only component of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that will stand the test of time, and Zimmer managed to perform it with even more mania than was present in the film.

After performing the primary scores from the Dark Knight franchise, Zimmer paused to discuss his multi-decade relationship with Christopher Nolan—including the many tragedies their partnership bore. His narratives of Heath Ledger’s death and the Aurora movie theater shooting years later was told with equal parts devastation and power.

Following this speech, he performed a track that was attached to no film—a composition he wrote immediately after learning about the shooting. “Let’s do a piece of music with no lyrics,” he told his orchestra only hours after hearing the news while attending the England premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. “It should feel like we’re reaching our arms across the Atlantic, reaching out to the victims and the people left behind. This piece will be called ‘Aurora.’”

“Aurora” begins slow and somber, leaning on the deeper sounds from Zimmer’s string ensemble. When it builds, it takes a turn halfway through, and fiercely played drums allow rage to completely subsume the opening melancholic strains. The language Zimmer earlier used to describe the Wonder Woman theme seemed fitting for this track as well: “I wanted the sound of rusted razor blades scraping across the instruments’ strings.”

Zimmer’s live show is a worthy testament to his four decades in the industry and will likely redirect audience members relationships with music in film. He will continue his tour for the next three months and conclude it at Seoul, South Korea’s largest stadium—which might be the only space large enough to contain Zimmer’s talent.

Taylor Kirby
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