Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer says Dubai is 'quite possibly the future'

Composer spoke about stage fright and the secrets of his success ahead of his January concert in the emirate

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For Hans Zimmer, a live concert is not much different from hosting a dinner party. The turnout may be in the thousands, but the Academy Award-winning composer is really out to “just have a chat” and connect with his audience.

“It’s all very personal,” he said, speaking at a press conference in Roxy Cinemas at Dubai Hills Mall ahead of his January 27 concert at Coca-Cola Arena. “Performing live started in a very personal way. I hadn’t left my studio in 40 years, and somebody finally said: ‘you need to look people in the eye, you can’t hide behind the screen for the rest of your life’.”

That someone was Pharrell Williams. The US record producer and rapper convinced Zimmer to join him on stage for a live performance of his hit Happy during the 2015 Grammy Awards. Zimmer said he was at first hesitant to take to the stage, citing stage fright as the main deterrent, but that it was hard to pass up the opportunity to play the guitar live with the 13-time Grammy winner. The experience, he said, paved the way for a new avenue of expression.

“That’s what kind of got the ball rolling,” Zimmer said. “I have such an international band. They come from everywhere. What was happening was that they had been coming to me and I finally decided that I want to go to them. I want to experience the culture of the world, to take my work everywhere and see what happens.”

Zimmer is, of course, the composer behind many instantly-recognisable scores, from The Lion King and Gladiator to Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean and Dune. The January 27 show will be his first live performance in the Middle East, and the German composer said he couldn’t think of a better place to make his regional debut than in Dubai. The show will kick-start the 2023 leg of his tour, after which he will go on to perform across venues in Europe.

“My instinct is that, right now, Dubai is the place that is going to merge culture, commerce, nations, ideas, poetry and music,” he said. “It quite possibly is the future, the way we humans can experience, is going to be happening here.”

Zimmer said he is “totally, completely and recklessly” looking forward to his performance at the Coca-Cola Arena and promises that the show is “going to knock your socks off.”

“I want people to still be talking about it weeks later, where something happens that they didn’t expect,” he said. “Because, for me, standing in front of an audience, something happens that I don’t expect.”

There is another emotive stimulus that pushes Zimmer towards the stage — to play more obscure pieces from his oeuvre, those that are perhaps even more personal to him that his better-known works, and which pay respect to past collaborators that have since died, such as film director Tony Scott, with whom Zimmer worked on the 1995 thriller Crimson Tide.

“These pieces are memories of people I loved that might not be around any more. I play these pieces to honour them,” he said.

With a track record of more than 500 projects and an award cabinet that features some of the most coveted prizes a composer could yearn for, Zimmer credits his success to a simple, proactive mindset — agreeing to do a project before mulling it over too much and agonising over how he will do it justice.

“It’s an adventure,” he said. “I just always had this rule: say yes, and afterwards go ‘oh, how am I going to do this.’”

During the press conference, Zimmer revisited some of his most recognisable scores, sharing anecdotes about his creative relationship with some of the industry’s luminaries.

For instance, the main theme from Inception came about as a result of a conversation between him and director Christopher Nolan during a party that they were both reluctant to attend.

“We were chatting about something, and he suddenly looks at me and says ‘I have an idea. If I were to write a letter, and I’m not going to mention what the movie is about, but if I send it to you and you write whatever comes to mind from those words. Would you be up for that?’ Yes was the obvious answer,” Zimmer said.

“This letter turned up, and it was on a thick paper and I knew it was written on his dad’s typewriter. The letter was about what it was to first become a parent. It was very touching. I wrote this tiny piece of music, basically a love letter to my son, and I finished at around 10 o’clock at night. Chris comes over and I played him the piece. It was incredibly fragile, and I ask him what he thought. And he goes: ‘Well, I suppose I better make the movie now’, and he starts talking about space and time and huge, huge things. I interrupted him and say: ‘But I’ve written you the most fragile, heartfelt little theme’. And he says: ‘Yeah, but I now know where the heart of the story is’. So, sometimes these things happen before the movie even exists.”

Zimmer also said that he was reluctant to take on the job for The Lion King, a score that would earn him his first Oscar, and that he had initially told Disney that he doesn’t “do cartoons.” Luckily, he changed his mind and set out to make as authentic a composition as he could for a story set in Africa. The composition began finding from when he met Lebo M, the South African producer and composer, whose vocals are featured at the beginning of the opening song.

“He was a political refugee working at a car wash in North Hollywood,” Zimmer said. “I wanted right at the beginning for you to know that this was not about America, that you weren’t in America anymore. I wanted to find an authentic voice. There’s this sort of cultural imperialism that always comes up where you just steal bits of other cultures. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have the real thing and reinvent it.

“We recorded [the score] two weeks before the election in South Africa. Outside was a bloody, terrible civil war, and inside the studio was music and beauty. People wouldn’t go home because we were [a] sanctuary. We were safety and sanity. I think when you hear those voices, you can tell there's more to it than meets the eye or meets the ear.”

Tickets to Hans Zimmer Live are on sale at

Updated: December 04, 2022, 10:25 AM