Review: Hans Zimmer displays rock-star energy in debut Dubai concert at Coca-Cola Arena

The nearly three-hour-long performance features renditions of hit compositions from films including The Lion King, The Dark Knight and Interstellar

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Before concluding his concert on Friday with the main theme of Interstellar, Hans Zimmer performed a piece of music that he had specifically written for Dubai.

The song, Diamond in the Desert, began with lilting trills and Arabesque rhythms, growing increasingly elaborate and charged as more members of Zimmer’s big band chimed in.

“It starts really quietly, like the wind blowing over the desert,” Zimmer said as he introduced the composition during his first performance at the Coca-Cola Arena, where he will be playing again on Saturday night.

“There’s really nothing there. There’s a wind, and slowly the sun is rising. And as the sun is rising, the people of the tribe begin gathering. Slowly, one man starts to build and then others start to build. Then people from other nations come in, and the whole world is starting to assemble in this beautiful place. The music ends with the piece it started with, but now it's fully formed, and it’s grand, and it’s epic, and so is Dubai.”

Diamond in the Desert was conceived after Zimmer’s last visit to Dubai in December. The Oscar-winning composer said he was so impressed with the city and how it encapsulated his idea of the future that he felt compelled to express himself with music.

“I was so inspired by this place,” he said to about 9,000 cheering fans. “I was so inspired by everything that I saw. The hospitality of the place. The education and the humanity of everybody. I decided to write a little song, well, it’s not so little. A piece of music that is describing my feelings about this place. This place called Dubai.”

Zimmer has composed several instantly recognisable scores — from The Lion King and Gladiator to Interstellar, Pirates of the Caribbean and Dune. Friday’s show was his first live performance in the Middle East — and also kick-started the 2023 leg of his ongoing tour.

Fans might think of Zimmer as a film composer who is more at home in a studio than on a stage, but it turns out he is quite the rockstar.

Even at 65, he zips across the sprawling stage with a commanding and affable presence, swapping instruments and interacting with the orchestra and audience alike. It is in a live setting that the enormity of Zimmer’s music becomes most apparent — in terms of its sonic vastness, but also in the number of people involved in his work.

His big band features a strong female presence and comprise of some of the world’s most celebrated musicians, including cellist Tina Guo, singer Lisa Gerrard, woodwind player Pedro Eustache, Lebo M (who sang the euphoric Zulu chant for The Lion King), as well as legendary guitarist Guthrie Govan. Between the band’s brass and string sections, three drummers, percussionists, guitarists, bassists, it is easy to lose count of the musicians on stage. The beauty, however, is in witnessing the cohesion of the orchestra as a whole.

And if you’re wondering how film scores fare on stage, well, Zimmer had more up his sleeve than simply rehashing what he had written for screen.

He presents his pieces with novel arrangements that delightfully catch you off guard, or have you scratching your head trying to recall where you might have heard this tune. The blistering riffs from Wonder Woman blend with those from Man of Steel, before suggesting the lofty theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. From the brooding score of The Dark Knight to the vastness of The Last Samurai and the majestic theme of The Lion King, Zimmer’s almost three-hour long performance was as much of a celebration of his career, as it is a journey across four decades of Hollywood staples.

Even during the more pensive pieces, such as Interstellar’s main theme, Zimmer manages to keep the delicate and intimate nuances of his works, which may have easily been lost in a grand auditorium with a turnout in the thousands.

When the composer first visited Dubai in December, offering a sneak peak of his performance during a press event, he said he had been “totally, completely and recklessly” looking forward to his performance at the Coca-Cola Arena and promised 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.”

And while thankfully not many had to walk out of the Coca-Cola Arena barefoot in the rain, Zimmer marked his debut concert in the Middle East with an experience that will leave his fans reflecting on the performance for a lot longer than weeks.

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Updated: February 02, 2023, 9:25 AM