By Joseph E. Morgan
On Sunday, July 16th Hans Zimmer brought his 2017 tour, a “multi-layered experience for concert goers” featuring music spanning the famous film composer’s career, to the Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville. The concert was bright, loud, exciting and a great deal of fun. It featured two parts; the first encompassing some of the composer’s most classic pieces (The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean etc.) and the second presenting the darker, louder and thrilling later compositions (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Wonder Woman, Inception). In all the concert was like revival tour of an old favorite band, except instead of favorite songs, it featured favorite themes from famous movies.
As a film composer, Hans Zimmer’s genius is different, residing not in catalogue of leitmotivic references like John Williams, beautiful melodies like Martin Hamlisch or even the orchestral color and timbre of one of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores. Instead, Zimmer’s gift is in the distillation of musical style and topic to its most meaningful elements—often a simple chord progression and melody on an idiomatic instrument, and then building it back up again in the context of the cinematic presentation.
One example is the famous framing marimba theme from 1993’s True Romance. The marimba at the beginning is in sharp contrasting with the movie’s opening in a dark, Detroit winter, but by the end we find that the theme is a warm promise and reward for the loyalty of the hero and heroine. Another example is his use of the Zulu language, “Nants ingonyama bagithi baba“ (Here comes a lion, father) combined with an a cappella male choir quite reminiscent of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for the opening of the Lion King from 1994.
He is equally capable of applying this process in jazz and classical styles. For Driving Miss Daisy he synthesized modern jazz fusion (think Weather Report’s “Birdland”) with old-time Dixieland jazz and for his theme from Crimson Tide, he developed a melody for trumpet (the military instrument) that is soon followed by a powerful Russian-styled male chorus that could have come right out of Modest Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov. This music lends a powerful sense of nostalgia to the cinema, a nostalgia that lasts and is connected to the music long after the movie has ended.
In concert, Zimmer chose to only loosely, and ambiguously, connect the various numbers to the movies they were written for. Wonder Woman is treated with powerful bright red lights, the Pirates of the Caribbean is accompanied by an accordionist sporting a toy parrot on his shoulder, and Aurora, written for the victims of the Colorado shooting, was given in front of a starry sky projected on the screen behind the stage. In all the lightshow was understated enough to contribute without distracting from the music.
The only difficulty with the evening, a difficulty that I don’t think could have been avoided, was the predictability of the formal organization of each number. In each, the theme was presented, and then given to the production force and virtuosic musicians onstage who repeated each theme, altering its color and gradually immersing it within richer and richer textures, subjecting it to a minimalist groove and ever-louder dynamics until it inevitably climaxed and suddenly stopped in silence.
Particularly with the action themes of the second half, this convention worked rather well. Indeed, for a collection of movie themes there isn’t much else to be done, but nevertheless, by end of the evening it had become a trifle predictable. Nevertheless, with the memorable themes, the amazing musicianship and wonderful light show, Hans Zimmer’s tour worth the time. The show appears in theaters across North American through August.