With many of us yearning to return to concert venues, theatres and music halls to experience live music once again, I thought I’d write about another way of enjoying concerts - Blu-ray or DVD recordings.
What happens when you combine one of the world’s best film composers, the best musicians, the best orchestrators, the best lighting and sound engineers, and put them all together in some of the worlds finest concert venues? Well, I’d say Hans Zimmer’s Live series demonstrates the epitome of everything film music represents, and every feeling it should evoke. An audio-visual masterpiece and an unashamedly hedonistic musical experience, this rock concert for orchestral music should be on everyone’s ‘to watch’ list, if not to see in person.
Despite having always been a fan of Hans Zimmer’s musical work, notably with Pirates of The Caribbean, Gladiator, and The Lion King, and having performed a number of his scores with various orchestras, I only recently came across the recording of his Live In Prague concert. Even after my first listen on Spotify using headphones, I was struck by the irresistibly over the top orchestration of my favourite film scores, and the sheer size of the orchestra. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I was given the Blu-ray recording of the concert as a Christmas present!
I watched the concert on Blu-ray, played by the Primare BD32 on a 55” 4K OLED display, into a Ming Da Dynasty Octet, and out through the Opera Grand Mezzas, at a volume level verging on incurring the wrath of the neighbours, utterly mesmerised by the performance. Joining Hans Zimmer on stage is a 72 strong symphony orchestra, a full choir, and a personally chosen 21 piece backing band including world renowned names such as Johnny Marr, Lebo M, Tina Guo and Satnam Ramgotra.
The music is, of course, expertly and flawlessly performed, but what makes the whole concert so engaging to watch is the unusually - for orchestral music at least - theatrical element. The rock concert style lighting, the charismatic introductions to each piece by Hans Zimmer himself, and the superb camera work giving you a better than real life view of the stage all come together to create this enthralling spectacle.
The combination of the traditional acoustic symphony orchestra and the more modern electronic instruments, sythns, and trigger pads adds so much power to the music that just isn’t possible with a symphony orchestra alone. Even watching at home rather than in an arena I can feel the deep thud of Ramgotra’s kick drum and the ethereal rumble of the bass singers vibrating through my body. The only thing I would have added would be a pair of SVS subwoofers to add an extra dimension of sound to the room. If anything can encourage non-orchestral listeners to explore orchestral music, this will be it.
A personal highlight, as a percussionist myself, is the intense, tribal, and deeply cool drum solo partway through '160 BPM' from Angels and Demons. The piece itself is really interesting, with minimalist guitar ostinatos, the relentless and unchanging speed, unpredictable metre changes, and the haunting choral chanting behind it all. Satnam Ramgotra leads the solo with laid back professionalism juxtaposing the colossal sound he is creating, while percussionists Lucy Landymore and Holly Madge battle it out on trigger pads at opposite ends of the stage, much like the two sets of Timpani in Nielsen’s Symphony No.4.
Many of the pieces from this performance can also be found on YouTube, but the best way to enjoy it really is through Blu-Ray, or if you just want to be blown away by the orchestration, it is also available on Vinyl and CD here.