Concert review: Hans Zimmer – Bell Centre, Montreal – July 30 2017

As a film music fanatic, it’s a rare treat to be able to see a composer in concert. Hans Zimmer is probably the most suited to take his music to the arena stage: he uses the orchestra like a rock band, and his syncopated rhythms and time changes would put to shame some of the heaviest metal bands.

Yet, he began the concert on his piano, a lone spotlight shining on him, playing the delicate melodies of “Driving Miss Daisy”. He was quickly joined by a first group of musicians, and handed a banjo to offer the delighted crowd a rousing version of “Discombobulate”, the theme from “Sherlock Holmes”.

The full orchestra and choir were soon revealed when the backdrop rose to reveal the musicians. It’s with this full ensemble that he offered an impressive rendition of the famous “Roll Tide”, from “Crimson Tide” and “160 BPM” from “Angels and Demons”. With four percussionists, the famous Zimmer sound resonated throughout the Bell Centre. All four musicians engaged in percussion battles throughout the night, in dazzling duels of virtuosity.

The German composer often spoke between pieces, shedding light on their creation, and presenting his musicians, most of whom seemed to have a long history with him. The first set was dedicated to some of his biggest hits, including “Gladiator”, “The DaVinci Code”, “The Lion King” with Lebo M, the original singer from the movie, and of course, “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Cellist Tina Guo took centre stage for that piece and frankly stole the show. She attacked her electric cello with gusto and fury, her long black hair blown back by a strategically place fan. She coaxed sounds out of her instrument that seemed out of this world, matching the aggressiveness of the rock instruments all by herself.

The Circle of Life

The second part of the concert featured a lot of Zimmer’s more experimental scores, covering movies like “Interstellar”, “The Thin Red Line”, “The Man of Steel” and the “Batman” trilogy. His superhero music is quite bleak and primal; it made for a powerful performance (what a wall of sound!), but as a concert program, it broke the flow. The more challenging pieces would have been netter appreciated sprinkled throughout the more commercial pieces. And as much as I love what he did for “Inception”, something more cheerful would have worked better as an encore (why not keep “Pirates” for that?), although having Zimmer finishing the show as it started, on the piano with a lone spotlight, tied in nicely to that movie’s premise.

I was suprised that there were no projections of the films during the concert, but in the end it worked best. There were no distractions, and the focus was on the music and the extraordinary musicians playing it. It would have been nice if some of the lesser known pieces had been introduced, but the music spoke for itself regardless.

I have a love/hate relationship with the music of Hans Zimmer. When he’s going through the motions on autopilot, his music is bland and generic. But when he’s inspired, he can be a fantastic composer. Luckily, the concert focused on works that fall in the latter category, and we got to know the man behind the music a little more. A great night of music that lasted 3 hours, and undeniable proof that we need more film music concerts.


Tina Guo and her electric cello
The choir revealed


Jean-Frederic Vachon
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