For 30-plus years, Hans Zimmer has been known as the man behind the movies, composing some of the most celebrated and prolific film scores of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 2017, he’s finally gone 3D. Zimmer — whose most recent work is heard in the film “Dunkirk,” directed by Evanstonian Christopher Nolan — is currently on an arena tour, bringing his greatest pieces to life in front of a live audience for the first time in America.
HANS ZIMMER LIVE
When: 8 p.m. Aug. 4
Where: Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim, Rosemont
Tickets: starting at $65
“At one point or another, all these musicians [I’ve worked with] said, ‘You have to stop hiding behind a screen, you owe it to an audience to get out on stage and look them in the eye,’” says the German-born composer, now 59, in a recent media conference call. “I thought if not now, when?”
The show, which comes to Allstate Arena August 4, promises a two-part thriller, beginning with classic performances of Zimmer’s music for movies such as “Gladiator,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Lion King,” the latter of which won him an Academy Award. The second half will be more experimental with new interpretations of his pieces for “The Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception.”
With more than 120 film scores to his name, there was plenty of material to choose from, but Zimmer says it was ultimately his touring band’s idea what made it into the set list, which has been fluid. “In my typical neurosis, anxiety and paranoia I hated everything and so my set list was roughly 90 seconds long,” he jokes. “So I got the band together and said to them, ‘What is it that you guys want to play?’ With ‘Gladiator,’ for example, I didn’t want to do it until the band bullied me into it by convincing me and showing me how we could make it interesting.”
The joy for the self-admitted perfectionist is now being able to rework his vaulted material. “Everything I’ve ever done, it’s torn out of my hands and put into the movie, and I can’t ever go in and improvise it,” he says. Contrarily on tour, Zimmer is able to rethink it. “I keep writing new counter lines and playing around with the music. The fun for me is that I can actually go and carry on developing a piece every night, which is helped by having truly extraordinary musicians up on that stage.”
Zimmer’s ensemble includes 20 touring musicians, such as the Aristocrats’ guitarist Guthrie Govan and accomplished woodwind player Pedro Eustache (who has toured with Ravi Shankar), along with local choirs, and some special guests in select cities — among them Lebo M. (the voice from “The Lion King”), Incubus guitarist Mike Eizinger and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr who previously worked with Zimmer on “Inception” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Zimmer’s other collaborator, Pharrell Williams, was also a surprise guest at Zimmer’s unexpected tour kickoff at Coachella earlier this April.
“I just loved the idea of bringing a choir and orchestra to the desert because I don’t think anyone has ever done that,” jokes Zimmer who himself was on his way to rock star status before coming up through the echelons of the soundtracking world. In the ‘70s he played keyboards in the band Krakatoa and worked with new wave act The Buggles (he even appeared in a clip for their hit, “Video Killed The Radio Star”), with the influence seeping into his electronic synth experimentation in more modern pieces. Having toured as a musician also informed how Zimmer wanted to approach his newest live tour — rather than conducting, adamant about being an active part of the band.
“One of the things that was important to me was figuring out how to make the whole experience of orchestra more relevant,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we somehow bridged this gap that seems to exist between orchestral music and an audience. That meant getting rid of the wall, which the conductor represents by having his back to them.”
Ultimately Zimmer also chose to make his live tour solely focused on the music and not on any kind of nostalgic film clips, bringing in Pink Floyd’s lighting designer Mark Brickman to design an array of mind-bending visuals.
“There’s quite a lot of live orchestra and film events,” he says, counting among them his mentee Ramin Djawadi’s recent “Game of Thrones” live experience. “And what happens is for the first five minutes I’m completely utterly excited about the orchestra, but if the movie is any good, after five minutes I’m completely into the movie and forget about the orchestra,” he continues. “What I wanted to do was make it about the music and not about anything else. It was really important to me to see if we could get away without showing a single image from the movies, and so far it’s working pretty well.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.