After opening blasts from his monumental scores for Dune and Inception, Hans Zimmer has some people he wants to introduce at the back of his stage: 10 Ukrainian musicians who have escaped the Russian invasion of their country.
The German composer had booked the Odessa Opera Orchestra to perform with him when this concert at London’s O2 Arena was originally due to be held last year. But in the time since that delay, caused by Covid, the world has changed.
Horrifyingly, half of the group are still in Ukraine. “We only managed to get 10 people out,” says Zimmer. They are given a heartfelt standing ovation before helping to perform his score to Wonder Woman 1984, while the big screen shows images of female Ukrainian soldiers alongside the nation’s yellow and blue flag.
Quite how such a mesmerising performance is able to blossom from what Zimmer admits could be a “complete downer” only makes the next three hours all the more joyous. “I want this to be what music is supposed to be, to bring us together, let us celebrate something,” he says – and he succeeds.
Another great film-music composer, the late Ennio Morricone, played one of his final concerts at this same venue in 2018 – a formal occasion of 90-year-old Il Maestro conducting a full orchestra and choir sat on a stool, saying no words and letting his scores speak for themselves.
Zimmer’s musical circus could scarcely be more different. How to sum up its force and energy? It’s like watching three Arcade Fires on stage all that once: there are countless violins, drums and French horns, Guthrie Govan plays his guitar like Brian May (with hair to match) for Man of Steel, while Tina Guo explodes on her space-age electric cello for Pirates of the Caribbean.
At the centre of all this is Zimmer himself. He plays acoustic guitar and piano while driving his collaborators through his scores, which famously start intensely, become more intense, and then somehow grow even more intense just when that seems impossible. Performed live, the magnitude of his music is more powerful than ever.
Zimmer won his first Bafta earlier this month for the beguiling wails of fantasy blockbuster Dune, which could also secure his second Oscar this weekend and is sung here with ferocity by Loire Cotler. The rich contrasts of his scores – from the unnerving existential chill of Interstellar to the sunny warmth of The Lion King – reveal just how much talent has been drenched on his band.
As for the spectacle, we’re treated to an aerial dancer hanging from the ceiling with white shrouds and a pulsating light display.
There is no let up from the music. The only chances to draw breath come during Zimmer’s disarming chats between songs. He jokes about Brexit (“All these foreigners playing foreign music, ridiculous!”) only to apologise later for bringing politics into things.
And of course then comes the real crowd pleaser: a bass-led James Bond encore, featuring that famous theme by Monty Norman and John Barry and Zimmer’s own score for No Time To Die. The crowd surely hopes that, like the secret agent, Hans Zimmer will return.