Hollywood in Hamburg: John Powell – 2018-06-04, Hamburg

“Ice Age and Beyond”

Back in May 2017, a series of film music concerts with the name “Hollywood in Hamburg” was announced. Each of these concerts would focus on one composer and would be held in the most prestigious concert hall in Hamburg: The Elbphilharmonie. The announced composers were Danny Elfman, David Arnold and – the one announcement which made me very excited – John Powell. Since all the tickets sold out within minutes, I was not able to attend the other composers’ concerts, but I was able to get a ticket to Powell’s concert more than a year ago, and on June 24, 2018, it was finally time to attend this concert.

John Powell with the accordion

From a long way up, I could look down on the stage to see Gavin Greenaway walk in to begin conducting the orchestra. It was just what I hoped for, with a powerful start of the choir from the final part of X-Men: The Last Stand. I was very happy to hear a piece of the “Phoenix” theme and the “Bathroom Titles.” Afterwards, Greenaway took the microphone to welcome the host of the night, John Powell, on the stage. Powell walked up onto the stage with an accordion on his back, said hello to the audience and heard the bad news from Greenaway that there was no accordion in Chicken Run. The composer also jokingly told the choir that they should not confuse a kazoo with a bong. Luckily, they followed his advice, and their kazoo part in that piece was a joyful experience to listen to. After hearing these two older pieces, it was time for two brand new ones. One was “Lando’s Closet” from Solo: A Star Wars Story which was performed beautifully and with emotion. The other was not film music though. It was the last part of “A Prussian Requiem” from Powell’s classical album Hubris, which was released just a couple of weeks ago, called “The Gift.” I was quite impressed by that piece, especially by the two men from the choir, who sang their solo parts magnificently. As an introduction to Pan, Powell told the audience that he only had five weeks to write the music for this movie. On the piano he presented the wonderful theme from the movie, which he claimed to have written just five minutes before the director walked into his studio for a checkup. In the suite itself, we could hear the whole orchestra play the beautiful music, which Powell had written in such a short time. The last suite of the first half was from Ferdinand, where the classic guitarist Rafael Aguirre, who had already assisted the orchestra for some pieces, took the spotlight.

The second half started with one of my favorite Powell pieces from The Bourne Identity. It was a very solid performance by the orchestra, with a lot of percussion, to give it the necessary drive and with the very recognizable and delicate bassoon solo. During the applause we could see John Powell sneakily appear from the midst of the orchestra, where he had played the viola. Throughout the whole concert, Greenaway and Powell would exchange a silly joke where Powell asked the conductor if there was an accordion part in the next piece and the answer was always negative. For “Assassin’s Tango” from the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith Greenaway could finally make Powell happy, even if it was only for a couple of seconds since the accordion part was very short. After a beautiful piece from the romantic comedy Two Weeks Notice, it was time for music from the How to Train Your Dragon movies. The first piece was a suite from the first movie, with Powell playing the electric guitar. Music from this movie always sounds very different live than what I am used to from the album, but it was still able to give me goosebumps in the finale of the suite. For the second piece, “Forbidden Friendship,” Powell switch to the mallets, where he and his fellow percussionists set the perfect foundation for this beautiful cue. The final suite of the program was from the How to Train Your Dragon 2, which would have been a solid conclusion of a great program if it was not for a small confusing mishap in the climax of the piece. It was made up, luckily, with an encore from Ice Age: Meltdown where we could listen to this wonderful music.

John Powell at the mallets during “Forbidden Friendship”

To be honest, I was really looking forward to this concert, and I was not disappointed. The orchestra and choir with Gavin Greenaway at the helm did a great job in performing John Powell’s music, as mentioned by the composer: “The music is all written for studio: You record it in little bits. You are not supposed to play it in one go.” John Powell was a funny host: He looked a bit uncomfortable, but that made it just more genuine. It was like being at his own party where he was the host. One thing that I really need to mention was the sound quality in the Elbphilharmonie. I have never been in a concert venue of that size with that quality without almost no sound amplification. The sound was very natural – as if you were very close to the stage. It also has its disadvantage: you can hear every cough or whisper from almost everywhere in the audience. Also, a small mistake in the orchestra could easily be heard, of which there were luckily not that many. But having such a huge venue with such a good design for the sound waves also comes at a price – literally. Tickets for this concert were over 100 euros each. If I was to imagine what kind of audience a Powell concert would attract, I would think about families with children or young adults. Exactly the ones who are having a hard time to pay these kinds of prices for a concert. A small glance at the audience was enough for me to see that the majority of them were older than 65, and I am quite convinced that most of them had never heard of John Powell before. Despite the concert being a huge success since it was sold out twice, I have the impression that a lot of fans of his music were not able to attend a concert like this. Personally, I would not have minded listening to this concert in a less expensive venue to make Powell’s music available to a wider audience that really appreciates it. John Powell will be attending two film music festivals in the near future, which makes me very happy because I will have a chance to listen to more of his magnificent music – and other people with less money will be able to do so as well.

Concert information

Where and when: Hamburg, Germany on June 24, 2018
Orchestra and Choir: The National Academic Bolshoi Opera Theatre Of Minsk Orchestra and Choir conducted by Gavin Greenaway
Host: John Powell
Guitar: Rafael Aguirre

Program

  • Finale from X-Men: The Last Stand
  • “Building the Crate” from Chicken Run
  • “Lando’s Closet” from Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • “The Gift” from A Prussian Requiem
  • Suite from Pan
  • Suite from Ferdinand

Intermission

  • The Bourne Identity
  • “Assassin’s Tango”  from Mr & Mrs. Smith
  • Two Weeks Notice
  • Suite from  How to Train Your Dragon
  • “Forbidden Friendship” from  How to Train Your Dragon
  • Suite from How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Ice Age: Meltdown (encore)

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