MSO: The Music of Hans Zimmer @ Hamer Hall

There’s no such thing as too much Hans Zimmer! I’ve already seen film music maestro’s own show twice, and this week I went to Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s tribute to some of the most iconic and influential film scores of all time.

It would be unfair to compare the scale, bombast and intensity of Hans Zimmer’s Rod Laver Arena shows to this more low-key affair, so I enjoyed the night on its own terms and had an absolute blast. I was especially keen to go since the event was hosted by the affable blokes from the Art of the Score podcast, who made last year’s MSO celebration of John Williams’ music so fun and memorable. Once again, the engaging duo of Andrew Pogson and Dan Golding (and Nicholas Buc on the conducting duties) brought their wealth of knowledge and insight, as well as some adorkable humour and knowingly daggy dad jokes.

To get myself even more pumped for the concert, I put on Zimmer’s Gladiator soundtrack in my car (yes my 2011 Nissan Micra still has a CD player). With a bit of time to spare inside the Arts Centre, I got myself a Magnum Classic ice cream and milled around. Compared to the audience at John Williams concert, the Zimmer crowd was more on the male and nerdy side and had less of an all-ages family feel, though I did see a few parents with kids.

After the lively and jaunty Discombobulate from Sherlock Holmes kicked off the night in style, our hosts took us to the early days of Zimmer’s musical career, including an appearance in the very first MTV music video for Video Killed the Radio Star. It’s hard to think of anything more removed from the classic Zimmer sound than a cheesy boppy 80s song, but I also wouldn’t associate his name with the theme from Driving Miss Daisy, which the hosts jokingly described as the only happy piece of music we were going to hear all evening.

The program included all the big hits you’d want and expect – Pirates of the Caribbean, The Thin Red Line, Inception, Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Lion King were all performed as either themes or suites. Not that I’d ever get sick of hearing them live, but I appreciated the different arrangements and choices as compared to the two previous Zimmer concerts. As expected, The Lion King suite received rapturous applause, and I found myself getting quite emotional during the score for the stampede scene. I’m one of the millions of 90s kids and teenagers left traumatised by Mufasa’s death!

Before The Dark Knight suite, the MSO paid tribute to the older Batman themes from the 60s TV show and Tim Burton’s 1989 superhero movie. The hosts even got the audience to sing along to the 60s theme, which was easy since it has exactly one word for the lyrics. In another entertaining introduction, the orchestra demonstrated how Inception got its signature sound after Zimmer experimented with slowing down Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. This song is now so strongly associated with the movie as a “kick” to another reality, it was surprising to learn that at one point Christopher Nolan considered ditching it and replacing it with something else. Quel sacrilège!

There were also a few surprises. Apparently, in between scoring dark and moody blockbusters, Zimmer also found time for a romcom; a lovely theme from The Holiday was a nice little palate cleanser. I also had no idea that Zimmer scored Kung Fu Panda! Unfortunately the orchestra didn’t have the original Chinese instrument, but a cello soloist made for a gorgeous substitute.

Though you could have picked most of the scores in the program as your epic finish, it felt appropriate to end the night with a suite from Gladiator, which remains my favourite Zimmer score. It would be unthinkable to perform it without a female vocalist, and since a special guest appearance from legendary Lisa Gerrard would be too much to hope for, I thought that Ali McGregor, another Australian singer, did a splendid job. Her voice may not have that ethereal and otherworldly feel, but she brought her own unique quality with her rich soprano. I don’t think I was the only one in the audience left utterly spellbound by the dreamy transcendence of Now We Are Free.

All in all it was yet another wonderful night of sublime film music from the MSO, and I would be happy to come along to more, though I’m not sure if there are film composers past or present who can compare to titans like Williams and Zimmer as far as popular reach goes.

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