Review: Hans Zimmer and his orchestra reach celestial highs with emotional live show in Sydney

Since the 80s, many blockbuster films have owed much to the work of Hans Zimmer. It’s likely none of them would have been the same without tapping into the intricacies that have come to define the renowned composer’s treasured work, resulting in scores that have gone far beyond the screen and stood on their own as dynamic pieces, beloved by everyone from lovers of classical music right through to Coachella regulars. The chance to see a curated selection of Zimmer’s work brought to life on an arena tour, by himself as well as 30 or so other musicians – many of which he has been working with for decades – wasn’t just a rare opportunity that no music lover should have taken for granted, but a genuine privilege.

Any doubts Zimmer could adapt his performance to a setting often dominated by contemporary rock bands and larger-than-life pop acts were shattered as soon as his first composition was over. The piece started as the fairly safe and inoffensive theme from Driving Miss Daisy, an exercise in slow-building brilliance as it soon morphed into Sherlock Holmes and Madagascar, Zimmer threading these three separate themes together to showcase just how much of a collaboration – or as he describes it, a “journey of friendship” – this live show is.

Musicians gathered underneath thin golden rays of light and slowly helped build this swirling amalgamation into one epic theatrical piece, offering everything from a playful clarinet to the invaluable cello, expertly plucked by the endlessly talented Tina Guo. By the end of the piece a curtain had raised to reveal an even larger addition to the already crowded scene: a full stage-wide choir – locals from Sydney – who would go on to be one of the most important parts of Zimmer’s live show. The composer sure understands how much intensity and drama having a choir can add to a musical score, and he’d only go to prove this over and over again as he’d patiently explore the various scores many of us have grown up with.

“I love them, and I hope you will love them too. They’re fucking amazing”, Zimmer calmly spoke to the crowd after the introduction, referring to the group of musicians he has so carefully assembled. He would emphasis throughout the performance that this was all bigger than just him, speaking with great admiration about the orchestra who would go on to produce some of the most genuinely awe-inspiring moments of live music I have witnessed in a very long time.

The first highlight came with Crimson Tide, again relying heavily on the Sydney choir. Before the piece, Zimmer told us that he had to argue with the producers of the film for around two weeks before they could see eye-to-eye on using a choir in an action film, something that had rarely been done before. I’d be surprised if anyone has argued with Zimmer since, particularly because the 1995 score went on to become one of the best things about the film. The sense of scale cloaked intimate moments of great detail as Zimmer would lead his orchestra through a medley of the film’s score, defining tense action with urgent strings and a high-flying electric guitar, settling into a groove before suddenly breaking apart with the inclusion of Angels & Demons, a notion which sprung to life with a triple-threat of hard and fast drumming.

Australian vocalist Lisa Gerrard lent her ethereal operatic voice to cap of Hans’ Gladiator melody with the celebratory “Now We Are Free”, one of the set’s most unforgettable moments that soon led into the rapturous medley of The Lion King – with Lebo M. himself as well as his daughter Refi – and a clear, exciting reminder that Pirates of the Caribbean remains one of Zimmer’s finest scores to date. The latter’s sense of wonder and adventure was incredible and dynamic, at one point having Guo positioned in front of Zimmer, flanked by two violinists who helped her create a poignant piece before it would swirl and explode with bombast.

This was when Zimmer and his orchestra were at their finest, when the atmosphere would slow down in the middle, settling into a tender soft spot before being built up again into an entirely different beast, taken to these beautiful celestial highs that transcended in a way only wordless music can. It was seen with the likes of The Dark Knight, with Interstellar, with The Thin Red Line, and with the heartfelt Aurora; all highlighting that structure and even bringing in some experimental prog-rock as well as a few unique ideas like having a lonely violin versus layers and layers of electronics. But nothing – maybe except Pirates – came close to the brilliance of the encore, dedicated entirely to Inception.

After a lengthy patch of darkness took the arena, the distinct “bwwwwwaaaaaaaarrrrrrr” sounds of Inception‘s forever-meme’d foghorns struck, accompanied by wandering spotlights which looked like military searchlights scanning the audience and scolding anyone who dared leave before the grand finale. “Dream Is Collapsing” was built soon after, carrying with it all the frantic theatrics that has seen the score become Zimmer’s most lauded project, leading to those heavy lumbering synths and violent strings that would go on to contrast with the tender touch of “Time”. And it was the incredibly poignant “Time” that would prove the only appropriate way of closing the show, ending on those simple heartbreaking piano notes that contain more emotion than most chart-topping power ballads could hope to inspire.

Zimmer’s live show was not just a brilliant, cinematic display of musicianship on an epic scale, but an insightful and detailed look into just how much power a film score can have. And yeah, it’ll make you want to watch each and every one of these movies again.

Hans Zimmer Australian Tour

Brisbane
Saturday 6th May | Brisbane Entertainment Centre

Perth
Monday 8th May | Perth Arena