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The German film-score composer and his team tell Gordon Masson how they overcame a litany of false starts, gambles and challenges to get his latest show on the road
By Gordon Masson on 12 May 2022
When Hans Zimmer Live made its debut in Hamburg on 11 March, the wave of emotion across an audience who had been starved of live entertainment for the best part of two years was palpable. And those scenes were reflected by everyone involved in the spectacular production.
“The tour was originally scheduled for Spring 2020, so when we had our first show in Hamburg, somebody from our social media team found out that we had announced that show 858 days ago,” reports Christoph Scholz from Semmel Concerts, which is co-producing the tour with RCI Global.
“There were definitely people in that audience who had sat on their tickets for more than two years, so the sense of relief and enjoyment was immense.”With an office in Hamburg, Semmel Concerts promoted that opening night. “It was very emotional,” says Scholz. “There was enormous tension on stage and backstage. But the audience, the crew, and the artists were simply very happy to be together again, and the atmosphere was special.”
A world apart
At press time, Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine was still raging, and thoughts of that senseless conflict are never far from the Hans Zimmer Live touring party, some of whom were forced to flee their country following the Russian invasion.
“Our originally scheduled orchestra is the Odessa Opera Orchestra from Ukraine,” reveals Scholz. “Within the first 72 hours of the conflict, ten musicians and their families were able to make it out to safety. But that was only about half of the orchestra and the others were unable to leave Ukraine. As a result, we’ve renamed it Odessa Opera Orchestra & Friends because we cast musicians from elsewhere in Europe.
“We were following the IQ newsletter every day, monitoring everywhere that was closing the doors”
“On the opening night, Hans introduced the band first after his first song, and there were standing ovations. It was a very touching moment. But we’ve had lots of standing ovations, since. The support has been just phenomenal.”
Getting the tour out of the starting blocks has been a monumental task, especially with so many false starts to contend with. “At Semmel, we were already hosting arena shows for domestic acts in Germany last year – between the end of August to mid-November we had 430,000 people attend our shows,” reports Scholz.
“So, when we met Hans Zimmer for a production meeting in early September last year, we were confident we were all set to kick-start the tour and go full steam ahead.” But in November, everything ground to a halt. “Suddenly, Germany restricted events again; the Netherlands never really reopened; Belgium shut down… we were following the IQ newsletter every day, monitoring everywhere that was closing the doors,” says Scholz.
Point of no return
With Zimmer being one of Hollywood’s most in-demand creators, his diary is continually jam-full. But along with Semmel and RCI Global, he was determined to make the tour happen as early in 2022 as possible. “We gambled a little bit,” admits Scholz. “In early January, when all of Europe was really closed, we had a large production meeting with Hans, and everybody agreed that we should just pencil in the dates and go for it.”
“We lost a lot of freelancers [during the pandemic] because they had to move on and find other jobs”
Initially, the tour was set for a mid-February debut, but with many governments still reluctant to allow venues to reopen, those dates were delayed and simply moved to the latter part of the routing. Still, being one of the first tours out on the road means the supply chain issues that event organisers around the world are having sleepless nights about, were not such a problem for those involved in Hans Zimmer Live. But it doesn’t mean they were non-existent.
Sebastian “Deichkind” Bülowius of back-line suppliers Captured Live is providing all the backline gear, as well as four backline techs on the road. He tells IQ, “We lost a lot of freelancers [during the pandemic] because they had to move on and find other jobs. I would say about 10-15% have decided to stay in the [new] job rather than returning. That means we’re expecting 85-90% of people to return as freelancers, which is positive, but a 10-15% loss of staff is still significant.”
Highlighting the spiralling cost of even the simplest materials, Bülowius says, “We had to get a couple of cases built for equipment. But ordering wood is getting more and more expensive, so that makes it really challenging.” Prices are also high on the agenda for Oliver Rosenwald, who as senior project manager at Semmel booked the entire European tour for Hans Zimmer Live and is currently in charge of operations on the road.
“We’re facing big problems to get our crews together, and it seems many riggers have just gone missing,” Rosenwald reports. “With Genesis and some other productions out on the road at the same time as us – even though there are not many tours out there at the moment – trucks and buses are already getting rare, so it could be very tough when more productions hit the road.”
“We’re facing big problems to get our crews together, and it seems many riggers have just gone missing”
On that transport side, Leo Steffen of Germany-based Trucking Service says they are overjoyed at getting back to touring. “The drivers are extremely happy, even if there is still a bit of uncertainty about the next few months as far as Covid restrictions are concerned,” he says.
“But they are glad to be travelling, not only with their Trucking Service colleagues and familiar crews again, but also to be out around the continent meeting new faces and facing new challenges that have developed over the long touring break.”
Those sentiments are shared by Hannes Hauser of personnel transport providers Beat The Street. “Everybody that came back to take over their buses again has been very excited, as they were sick of just sitting at home or of the alternative jobs some of them did. I only hear very good feedback from the drivers to finally be on the road again, doing what they like the most.”
However, if ever a reminder of the pandemic is needed, even as the first shows were entertaining sold-out arenas in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Dublin and London, in Italy restrictions were still limiting audiences to 60% capacity, while many other territories remain on a knife-edge and could be subject to restrictions being reimposed at any time, should Covid infection rates spike.
The spectre of Brexit also looms large. Border control issues have generated more paperwork, but one disappointing aspect experienced by the touring party was the number of Ukrainian musicians prevented from travelling to the UK.
“It was a very big challenge to get the Odessa orchestra and their families over the border to safety”
“It was a very big challenge to get the Odessa orchestra and their families over the border to safety, and we’ve rented houses and apartments for the families of our Ukraine musicians,” says Rosenwald. “Everywhere in Europe has been great, as they did not require any visas or work permits for our Ukrainian citizens. But that wasn’t the case with the UK, and we had to leave six or seven of our musicians at a hotel in Germany because they could not get their visas in time.”
Another supplier working hand in hand with the producers has been Satis & Fy – a longstanding partner for Semmel, according to project manager Lui Helmig. He explains that for the current tour, “All technical trades are controlled 360° from our house: lighting, sound, rigging and stage and scenic construction come directly from us for the Hans Zimmer tour, and for video technology we work with Video Bär.”
Helmig adds, “We put the crew together with the production management of Semmel Entertainment… when 15 [trucks] left our location in Werne for the start of the tour, it was a very emotional moment for all of us after two years of pandemic, because it’s finally really starting again.”
As good as it gets
With the tour effectively mothballed for two years, one of the producers’ biggest achievements was keeping the original production team and suppliers on board.
“With Hans, people are very loyal so we managed to keep everyone – suppliers, venues, promoters – who were originally working on the 2020 tour,” says Scholz. “Certainly there were changes within the crews, but every company stayed on board, even though we’ve all been extremely nervous. To be honest, we couldn’t fully guarantee that the tour would happen, but we’ve been welcomed with open arms because we’re the first large-scale arena show that many of venues have had for a long time.”
As the first post-Covid production to visit a number of arenas, the task of devising the tour’s hygiene concept fell to Rosenwald, who quickly realised that placing the tour party into a ‘bubble’ was not the solution. “The bubble is an illusion,” he states. “You cannot prevent people going for breakfasts in hotels, or going to bars and restaurants, so all you can do is take as many precautions as possible.”
“To be honest, we couldn’t fully guarantee that the tour would happen, but we’ve been welcomed with open arms”
Thankfully, Rosenwald was able to prove his hygiene concept with Semmel during a ten-city tour of France in autumn last year. “Basically, you cannot be part of the tour unless you are three-times vaccinated,” he explains. “FFP2 masks are worn by everyone in the tour party, and we’re also testing everyone regularly for the virus.
“Meanwhile, we’ve asked local promoters to test their own staff and wear masks when they deal with the touring party, and we have a hygiene manager on the road with us who makes sure that local crew are also tested.”
Despite the odd case, here and there, the plan has worked well. “It’s nerve-wracking,” says Scholz. “It was a lot of work for Oliver, but everybody was very flexible. It’s clear to everybody – each venue owner, each artist, each crew member, each supplier – that we work in uncertain times and that we all need to live with the unknown now. Covid can strike at any time – in the first week of production rehearsals in Berlin, for instance, we had three or four cases including two of our crew chiefs who were locked for almost ten days in their hotel rooms. But, just as Her Majesty the Queen did recently, they were able to do ‘light work’ while we conducted rehearsals and all that.
“It’s good that things are calming down because a couple of months ago one Covid case would lead to mass panic in production output – Broadway and West End shows would shut down, or film shoots would be postponed. But that seems to be changing.”
“We did The World of Hans Zimmer tour with five or six trucks… this tour has a total of 13 trucks”
While the current tour has had numerous challenges to overcome, what many in the business may not realise is that the scale of the production is enormous compared to previous Hans Zimmer outings.
“We did The World of Hans Zimmer tour, which was a smaller production with five or six trucks compared to this tour, which has a total of 13 trucks,” reveals Trucking Service’s Steffen. “Logistically, Hans Zimmer Live is more of a challenge in almost every way. Not only is there more equipment and personnel on the road, but the tour in general is a lot longer and covers more countries. This was also the first time we’ve been in the UK, post-Brexit, with a production this size, which made careful planning and customs preparation even more important than usual.”
One newbie to the world of Hans Zimmer is lighting designer John Featherstone, who nevertheless has been a friend of the composer since before the pandemic. “We have a lot of friends in common, but I first met Hans when he was doing a bespoke private show,” he explains. “He is always looking for new and exciting ways to deliver his music and vision to the audience, so it was inspiring to work with him on the concept for this tour.”
While other film-score-based shows simply match images from the movies to the music, that was not going to work with Hans Zimmer Live, which with a stage full of virtuoso musicians was always going to be more of a live concert than a scripted set.
“This was also the first time we’ve been in the UK, post-Brexit, with a production this size”
“The way Hans composes and the way in which the musicians interpret their roles means it was never going to be as iterative as other shows,” continues Featherstone. “You have to lean into the movies, for sure, but it was interesting to hear the way Hans approaches projects in collaboration with the film’s director, and then devise the lighting design in a similar way.”
The result is amazing. With about 20 virtuoso musicians on stage, there are astounding solo performances constantly throughout the show, while the impressive video screens above the stage and projections behind the 20-something-piece orchestra complement Zimmer’s compositions, which touch on blockbusters such as Gladiator, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dune, The Last Samurai, The Lion King, The Dark Knight and others.
“Dark Knight is bombastic and tortured, whereas Last Samurai is far softer and melancholic, and Lion King is obviously completely different. But the lighting and images allow the musicians to do their own thing without having to stick to a script or in time with certain scenes on a video,” adds Featherstone, who also had to design a system that could be tailored to work everywhere from the low, 12-metre height confines of Stuttgart, through to the soaring expanses of The O2 Arena.
A league of their own
The show itself is extraordinary. Like a latter-day Prince, Zimmer surrounds himself with the crème de la crème of musicians and artists, while the tour is Zimmer’s first to involve dancers and even an aerial artist to wow the audience.
Zimmer and his business partner, Steven Kofsky were originally persuaded to take his music to the fans by legendary impresario Harvey Goldsmith, who promoted their first shows in October 2014 at Hammersmith Apollo in the UK. Now, while Semmel and RCI have taken over as producers, Goldsmith remains involved co-promoting the shows with Kilimanjaro Live at The O2 Arena and the AO Arena Manchester.
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to postpone not once but twice”
“Unfortunately, because of Covid, we had to postpone not once but twice, so the fact that most people still had their tickets was a minor miracle,” states Goldsmith. “But they are a unique audience: very wide ranging but people who love the movies. The audience in London just went nuts.
“It is a big show, but then all of his shows are big, as he likes the spectacle of it,” he adds. “When you look at the quality of the musicians, that’s what makes it very unique – every one of them playing on that show is a star.”
Co-promoter Stuart Galbraith from Kilimanjaro Live says, “The Hans Zimmer Live shows in the UK were some of the strongest we have seen come through the pandemic. The fans were absolutely dedicated – 95% of them hung on to their tickets through the postponements and the tour, unlike many others, continued to sell strongly. But is it any wonder when Hans continues seems to release an award-winning soundtrack every month?!”
In Ireland, MCD’s Noel McHale who promoted the show at Dublin’s 3Arena, agrees. “It’s great to see crowds coming through the doors, all excited and buzzing to be going out to gigs again,” he says. “The Hans Zimmer Live show sold out two years ago and 99% held on to their tickets – people were really looking forward to this one.” And the fans were not disappointeded. “The show is genuinely spectacular – there were standing ovations: it was a sonic and visual feast,” says McHale.
But he isn’t surprised. “I go back a long way with Oliver and Christoph from Semmel Concerts, and I’ve promoted Hans Zimmer with them many times. They know how to put a great production team together and always find ways to improve on previous productions. Hans always finds the best musicians for his shows – stunning virtuoso players, every one of them.”
“The show is genuinely spectacular – there were standing ovations: it was a sonic and visual feast”
Another contributor keen to applaud the producers is Bülowius at Captured Live. “They’ve done a really good job: everything they did in advance to make sure that all these shows were going to happen the way they are – that was a lot of work. We’re showing everybody that it is possible, again, to just do it: to tour all over Europe,” he says.
That’s music to the ears of Rosenwald. “Hans Zimmer Live is a much bigger show and it’s been more challenging for everyone,” he notes. “People have fallen out of their routines because they haven’t done the stuff they were doing in the last few years, at least not in the in the way they’d done it before.” However, he notes that morale is high. “The entire feedback that I’ve had from the production side has been really good,” he tells IQ.
And that’s one of the reasons people are so happy to buy into Rosenwald’s hygiene concept. “As local promoters, we have a duty of care to Hans, his band, orchestra and crew to look after them when they come visit and keep them safe and healthy so they can continue to tour,” says McHale. “With over 250 people in the backstage area, everyone bought into our safety plans – everyone from the local crew to riggers to caterers and all production and venue staff wore masks all day, kept a safe distance, and continually used the sanitisers.”
A Monster in Paris
At IQ’s press time, the tour had loaded out of its three triumphant back-to-back shows at the Accor Arena in Paris and was on its way back to Germany for a date in Munich. Rosenwald comments, “I’m very proud that we managed to sell-out two nights at The O2 Arena in London, at the Hallenstadion Zürich, and at the Ziggo Dome in the Netherlands, but I’m even happier that we’ve sold out three nights at the Accor Hotels Arena in Paris!”
Friendly Fire promoter Rense van Kessel sold out the Ziggo Dome dates. He tells IQ, “We got so used to rescheduling things in the past two years that we all have become kind of experts on it. But we have been working so closely with the venue, ticketing company, our own staff, etc, on so many [events], that we worked out a very good functioning script [to communicate with ticket holders] which makes it all very smooth.”
“We got so used to rescheduling things in the past two years that we all have become kind of experts on it”
Unfortunately, a positive Covid test ruled van Kessel out from seeing the show himself. However, he reports that everyone involved with the Amsterdam dates was buzzing with excitement. “It is a great show of power from the Zimmer and Semmel teams that they managed to pull off a tour of this magnitude, production, number of people on the road, etc, in such challenging times,” he says. “Many would have pulled the plug, but they did everything they could to stay positive and do everything to get it on the road. And they succeeded. That is very impressive.”
By the end of the tour, the production will have played 30 dates to more than 300,000 fans across 15 nations, giving Hans Zimmer the undoubted title of biggest international tour since the pandemic closed venues more than two years ago.
Plans for the next part of Zimmer’s live career are still unconfirmed, but Los Angeles-based CAA agent Chris Dalston has been tasked with securing future dates. “The idea is to get the US tour, East Coast, on sale after the European tour finishes in June,” Dalston tells IQ, explaining that major cities like Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, Chicago, Washington DC, Montreal, Toronto, Atlantic City, Boston and New York are in the reckoning.
He reveals that further legs of the tour are being considered for Australia and Asia “at the end of ‘22 or early ‘23,” while a West Coast jaunt for North America could also be scheduled around that. Beyond then, promoters, producers and fans alike are already waiting in anticipation of what one of the greatest composers of our time will do next. “Hans has changed the entire genre of film music,” says Scholz. “It’s not the typical orchestra sitting in front of a screen and playing music to a film and the classic conductor. It’s a rock band, presenting the biggest film scores on Earth in a rock-pop show.”
The last word, however, goes to the maestro himself. “I try to write music in the studio that can live without the film, because I owe it to the director,” says Zimmer. Talking of the current tour, he states, “I don’t show a single frame of film because I am arrogant enough to believe that the music can stand on its own two feet.”
And noting that he shares the stage with musicians who are political refugees from South Africa and Venezuela, as well as the Ukrainian orchestral members, Zimmer concludes, “This orchestra is precious. It’s important that we get to go across the world with these people because it will remind you of all the times that art and artists are there to bring peace to this world.”
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