The Music of Zimmer vs. Williams at The Usher Hall Edinburgh was my final review of 2019, and it is always nice to be able to end the year’s reviews literally on a high note. This production from Raymond Gubbay featuring the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Stephen Bell, Conductor, features, as the title implies, music from two of the most successful composers in contemporary film music – John Williams and Hans Zimmer. The title of the show though perhaps needs a little bit of tweaking as it implies some sort of musical confrontation which, as conductor Stephen Bell quite rightly points out at the beginning of the performance, is simply not there.
Instead of “musical confrontation”, we perhaps have a musical comparison of two composers who have added so much to both music and films over the decades of their work, and along the way have given us some of the most recognisable film music of the last 40 years or so. When you get a chance to hear some of these works performed, often back to back to each other by composer, you then start to realise how both men have often taken completely different approaches to achieving their desired end-products.
The music of John Williams, often following in the footsteps of the great film composers of Hollywood’s Golden Days with his music for films such as E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (Adventures on Earth) and Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (Hedwig’s Theme) sharply at times contrasts with the music of Frank Zimmer’s at times almost minimalist music for Inception (Time) or the far darker Man of Steel movie from 2013. Their contrasting styles are always, however, interesting. Perhaps the classic difference between the two composers is how Hans Zimmer has completely avoided any comparison between John William’s now iconic music for Superman The Movie (March) from 1978 and his own recent Man of Steel work.
Composers who write film scores are often, apart from the main theme of a film, so often overlooked, and it is all too easy at times to forget what a huge impact their music has on a film, or how skilfully they compose music to the very second to match the mood or action of a particular film scene. When you get the chance, however, to watch film music performed by a symphony orchestra like the RSNO who are capable of performing this music in all its complexities and moods live on stage, you then start to understand a little bit more the amazing skill levels of composers like Zimmer and Williams.
Sadly, despite some wonderful film score music so often being around us when we go to the cinema, I find so much of its wonderful layers and textures are all too often destroyed by very poorly balanced sound systems in cinemas that are all too often simply turned up to maximum volume levels. Even buying your favourite film scores on CD, or trying to get some on classic old vinyl records, has its limitations too. When you get the chance, as with a live performance like this one, there is simply for me nothing to compare with the power of hearing this music performed by a live symphony orchestra in a classic and purpose built performance hall like the Usher Hall. This is when you can on a night like this imagine your heroes, and villains from Star Wars, Batman, Superman, Pirates of the Caribbean, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Gladiator and many more come to life on stage.
The magic of music from some of my favourite films coming together in a performance by one of my favourite orchestras - a perfect way to end reviewing shows for me in 2019.
Review by Tom King