Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: The Music of Hans Zimmer – Live Review

Earlier this year, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra held sold out concerts dedicated to the work of Hans Zimmer. I was absolutely devastated that I missed out last time as Hans Zimmer is the music behind some of my all-time favourite films from The Lion King to Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean and Interstellar. Thankfully, the MSO added a set of encore performances celebrating Zimmer’s iconic soundscapes and this time, I was not going to miss out!

Presented by Art of the Score, Andrew Pogson and Dr Dan Golding, The Music of Hans Zimmer is a musical journey through the life and works of Hans Zimmer. Conducted by Nicholas Buc, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra performed several suites and tracks from the various film scores of Zimmer’s extensive career.

Opening with the theme from Sherlock Holmes (2009) ‘Discombobulate’, the performance of this composition was so good, it not only made me excited for what was to yet come, but it left me wanting to see this film again. A desire that would be reborn throughout the entire evening each time a new film score was played.

Hosts Andrew Pogson and Dr Dan Golding introduced themselves and provided a preface of what we were to expect. They also provided some wonderful insights into the life of Hans Zimmer, not only regarding his own rise to fame within the film industry, but how Zimmer has influenced the art of scoring films as a whole. With the assistance of some wonderfully constructed demonstrations arranged by our conductor Nicholas Buc, we were able to get some incredible insight into how these iconic scores came to be.

One such example was the theme for the famed Pirates of the Caribbean. Buc went on to describe how Zimmer used a Pirate Hornpipe, and with the use of the 80 odd piece orchestra at his command, Buc cleverly explained through the art of music on how this iconic theme came to be. Not only was it extremely educational and had the audience gasping as they identified the tune, but it was also comical the way that Buc playfully executed this. Of course, the next number on the bill was a suite from that very film, composed by Hans Zimmer and Klaus Badelt, the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean Suite’ was a dynamic and wonderful highlight of the evening.

The first half of the evening’s performance continued with many amazing insights and even more incredible performances including music from Driving Miss Daisy, The Holiday, Inception, and The Thin Red Line.

Whilst I will always adore the score of Inception, I came away from the first half with a new appreciation for the score for The Thin Red Line. Pogson, Golding and Buc described Zimmer’s work as the layering of textures and driving momentum through a piece. Or as they liked to call it, “The Zimmer Build”. ‘Journey To The Line’ is the perfect example of this method, starting out with a single instrument and the rest of the orchestra layering music on top. Not only did this sound incredible, and you had to be there to witness the magic of a live orchestra, but I also found myself excitedly searching the orchestra for the next instrument to be played, before it was even added to the piece. A sort of musical Where’s Wally moment.

Just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, the second half absolutely blew me away. Straight after the intermission, I was transported back to a moment of childhood trauma with ‘The Lion King Orchestra Suite’, complete with the death of Mufasa. Even Pogson cheekily called out that he could hear the Millennials in the audience sobbing. Maybe a little over-exaggeration but there were definitely patrons around to me moved to tears, and it hit me too  – right in the feels. I could almost close my eyes and picture the moment from the film of the sad look on Simba’s face as he laid by his father after the stampede had subsided.

With other numbers such as ‘Kung Fu Panda: Oogway Ascends’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code: Chevaliers de Sangreal’ in the second half, it was the final three performances of the evening that were the highlight. They also just happen to be from three of my favourite films, two of them from director Christopher Nolan: The Dark Night and Interstellar.

Again, the charismatic hosts provided some back story to these tracks that gave me a new appreciation for the score and what they represent. Interstellar was written without seeing the film at all. Normally, the film would be edited and scored at the same time, or at the very least, with a completed script. But not this one. Nolan hadn’t even finished writing the script for the film and all he gave to Zimmer was a single sheet of paper, with a simple preface and asked him to spend a single day writing music to see what he could come up with. As a result, Zimmer produced one of the most stunning pieces of music I have ever heard in film. To hear this ‘Interstellar Suite’ live was an absolute delight.

Another highlight was the creation behind the score for Batman: The Dark Night with yet another live demo composed by the ever talented Nicholas Buc. He explained how just two notes form the engine room behind the entire score. It was mind blowing and again, gave me a whole new appreciation for the music to listen out for the next time I watch the film.

Last but by certainly no means least, was music from incredibly iconic film, Gladiator. Composed with Australian Lisa Germaine Gerrard on vocals, this score has a special connection to our shores. Continuing with the Australian connection, this suite required a soprano singer, and who better to step up to the microphone than our very own, supremely talented, Ali McGregor. Having seen McGregor perform before, I knew we were in safe hands and she did not disappoint. The entire ‘Gladiator Suite’ is stunning and was a lovely way to close out the concert.

I have been to many concerts performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in my time, from full replica film scores to tributes to John Williams, and even compilations of gaming music. But I would have to say that this Hans Zimmer concert is right up there as one of the best I have experienced yet.

The main reason behind this would be due to the hosts and the format of the evening. You could give an orchestra sheet music to a score and a conductor to guide them through it and it would still be a fun evening. But without the methodically constructed narrative and detailed history behind the music, it would be nowhere near as interesting, educational and entertaining. Without the chaps from The Art of the Score, I doubt I would have had as much fun as I did. This style of concert would also be the perfect introduction to a symphony orchestra too, for those wanting to fall in love with this kind of music for the first time, and I would love to see more of them.

The Music of Hans Zimmer, presented by Art of the Score, conducted by Nicholas Buc, and performed by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Hamer Hall for three sold out concerts from December 14 to 16 (I attended on the 15th). Witnessing these scores that I’ve loved for years from movies I’ve cherished even longer, made for a wonderful night, rich and nourishing, filled with brilliant music and even better movie music knowledge. This was an experience I’ll look back on and fondly remember for years to come. There’s honestly nothing as spectacular as a live symphony orchestra playing music that you love.

Whilst these encore shows were the last chance to catch the Hans Zimmer themed concerts, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is gearing up for another incredible year of music in 2024 which includes a return of Hans Zimmer’s music with film concerts to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Lion King in February.

For more information and ticketing, visit:

Photography by Laura Manariti.

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