Settling The Score – Concert Review

For my first ever concert experience, Settling The Score was, in two words – absolutely mindblowing. I’ve still got the Stargate theme in my head.

Settling The Score was a film music concert performed in the Royal Albert Hall on Friday the 18th of October, where renowned composers David Arnold and Michael Giacchino featured in a musical boxing match using their various film and television compositions as fighting opponents. It was a wonderful evening, not just because of the incredible performances by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, but also the composers themselves and the hilarious little side events that occurred throughout. Read on for my full thoughts on each of the pieces of music performed and the laughter that went along with them, as well as a definitive answer to the one true question of the day; who was better, Arnold or Giacchino?

20191018_190533The stage is set, and the evening is about to begin.

Moments after settling in, the lights started to dim, and two film music legends then took to the stage – dressed in over-the-top boxing apparel and backed by a rather hilariously-performed rendition of the Rocky theme. We were less than two minutes in and the tickets were already worth every penny. Sticking with the boxing match theme, a “Round One” placard was displayed onstage, the orchestra took their positions, and the music then began.

Sweeping strings opened the first performance of the evening; Come In 007 Your Time Is Up from David Arnold’s score for The World Is Not Enough (1999), and naturally it was absolutely sensational. I was pretty much over the moon at this point, as not only were they playing Bond, they were playing one of my favourite action tracks from one of my favourite Bond scores. The way the World Is Not Enough song themes expertly weave together with Monty Norman’s original James Bond Theme was always a particular highlight for me, and hearing it performed live in concert just made it all the more incredible. And speaking of which, that was what Michael Giacchino had to counter Arnold’s (let’s be honest) one hell of an opener; The Incredibles 2. Loud brass burst into the fray with an epic performance of The Incredibles main theme before then seguing expertly into a particularly jazzy and upbeat rendition of Elastigirl’s theme, then into more ominous-sounding territory with the ever-marching motif for villain Screenslaver. To finish up, we were then treated to a climactic and breathtaking rendition of the main Incredibles theme before round one then came to a dramatic close.

The Victor Of Round 1: It was a really close call, but sorry David, Michael’s got you beaten here. The Incredibles is pretty much exactly that in concert, and it just edged Bond for me, despite it being one of my favourite action cues. Winner: Michael Giacchino. Score stands at 0:1.

The cheering for round one then started to die down, and who should take to the stage, but Godzilla himself (or rather, David Arnold in a hilariously ridiculous Godzilla costume). It was here that we then got one of the biggest surprises of the evening, as film director Matt Reeves (who is currently directing upcoming superhero movie The Batman) walked onstage with Michael, and announced via a very amusing soundtrack “proposal” that Giacchino would be teaming up with him once again, this time to provide the score for The Batman. The crowd went absolutely wild, and I did too (2021 is going to be a great year for Michael Giacchino fans). After things settled down the orchestra then took their positions, and round two began.

20191018_195117A rather grainy photo taken by yours truly depicting (from left to right) Arnold, Giacchino and Reeves onstage.

As you might have gathered from Arnold’s appearance in a Godzilla costume, the next performance was of course of his main theme from his score to the 1998 Godzilla movie. Now if I’m honest I’ve never really listened to Arnold’s work for this film (aside from the occasional listen to the main theme as part of a playlist) – that being said, its rendition here was fantastic. The way the horns slowly built up in intensity and volume, seeding a rather ominous and spooky tone before then exploding at about the two minute mark with a very loud and intimidating thematic roar for Godzilla was a great thing to experience in concert, and I feel I really must check out the full score now. For Giacchino’s side of things he then decided to bring another Kaiju to the party; Cloverfield. The original movie actually had no score at all apart from a particularly dramatic end credits suite composed by Giacchino, and so that’s what we were treated to here. Like with Godzilla I have never really dabbled in this one either, but that didn’t stop it from being a similarly grandiose and at times actually quite scary performance, and one that I of course very much enjoyed.

The Victor Of Round 2: As much as I enjoyed Cloverfield, David Arnold is the winner here for me. I felt Godzilla just had a little more in terms of memorability and intimidation than Giacchino’s, not to mention the very 90s-sounding brass that just wins me over every time I hear it in Arnold’s scores. Winner: David Arnold. Score stands at 1:1.

David Arnold then once again took to the stage in costume, this time dressed as Sherlock Holmes introducing (while being blasted by silly string by Michael – don’t ask) his compositional works for the BBC’s Sherlock TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman for round three. I own a number of his albums for the TV series, and while I do very much enjoy listening to them, I have to say that they sound so much better when performed in concert. The main Sherlock theme opened the performance, and it simply sounded glorious. The tone then switched to solemnity for the theme from The Reichenbach Fall before strings (I couldn’t tell you the specific instrument) then got a rather wonderful solo spotlight with Irene Adler’s theme before the Sherlock theme returned once more to close out the suite. In a word – wow. It was then Giacchino’s turn, and he chose to fight Cumberbatch with Cumberbatch with an epic orchestral performance of his Doctor Strange theme from the 2016 movie starring that legendary actor. The actual piece of music was a shortened rendition of Strange Days Ahead from the score, and as expected it sounded absolutely fantastic in concert, with the initial horns-based rendition of the main theme being a particular highlight.

The Victor Of Round 3: It’s got to be Giacchino. I really enjoyed hearing Arnold’s Sherlock in concert and I will most certainly be revisiting those scores again now as a result, but something about hearing the opening notes for Doctor Strange on those wonderful-sounding horns just edged Giacchino’s side for me this round. Winner: Michael Giacchino.  Score stands at 1:2.

A rather hilarious impersonator then took to the stage as Prime Minister Boris Johnson (you kinda had to be there) to introduce the first of round four’s competitors; David Arnold’s music for the London 2012 Olympic Games, specifically his score for the Closing Ceremony. Let me tell you, it was amazing hearing that particular track performed live on stage. The theme just hits all the right notes – heroic and dramatic with just a hint of patriotism – and the orchestra played it absolutely wonderfully. The impersonator then returned as President Donald Trump (“introducing – Michael Guacamole!”) to announce Giacchino’s retort for the round; a piece entitled Voyage that he composed to celebrate sixty years of NASA. It takes a little while to get going on album but the concert orchestra here simply skipped straight to the good part; a fast-paced, rather grandiose and particularly American-sounding (think Independence Day) theme for the space program.

20191018_195621.jpgThe Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra hard at work.

The Victor Of Round 4: Sorry Michael, I have to go British for this round. NASA’s theme in concert sounded absolutely fantastic, but there was some raw emotion behind Arnold’s Olympics theme that just hit me more. Maybe it’s just the England in me, but that theme was just perfect, especially when performed live in concert. Winner: David Arnold. Score stands at 2:2.

After a rather hilarious appearance by Michael Giacchino onstage (“what’s a Stargate?”) the fifth round of the evening officially began with one of my favourite thematic creations by Mr. Arnold; his theme for Stargate. I actually held my breath as the orchestra began, waiting as the strings started to build in the background, knowing that the moment I had been waiting for was coming. After about thirty seconds or so, my wish was then granted as the horns practically exploded with the best performance of the Stargate theme’s opening notes that I have ever heard. Incidentally, there’s an expanded and remastered album for the 1994 film coming out next month via La-La Land Records, and this performance made me a hundred times more hyped for it. The orchestra then powered its way through epic renditions of tracks Giza, 1928 and Going Home from the original score album before the (in my opinion, anyway) best performance of the night sadly ended. Giacchino then (hopelessly, for me) countered with a rather splendid-sounding suite from his music for Rogue One, starting with the Jyn Erso/Hope theme and then seguing into a particularly intimidating Imperial Suite before then switching into Guardians Of The Whills and finishing up with a rather spectacular Hope-based finale.

The Victor Of Round 5: Yeah…David Arnold won this one, by far. I like Giacchino’s score for Rogue One, really I do, but Stargate has it beaten by…well quite a lot. Combine that with the fact that its concert performance was staggeringly beautiful and that they played all the best tracks from the score and it was the very clear victor for this round. Winner: David Arnold. Score stands at 3:2.

After the interval it was then time for round six, and the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra kicked things off with a particularly dramatic performance of Chris Cornell and David Arnold’s co-composed song for the 2006 Bond movie Casino Royale – You Know My Name. Sadly Mr. Cornell is no longer with us (he was a phenomenal singer) and so the producers decided to have the song perform vocal-less, which while the orchestra played it very well kind of fell a bit flat at points – the song did feel a bit empty without Cornell’s wonderful voice. That being said though it was still a great piece of music to hear live. To counter Michael then unleashed one of his more recent (and one of my favourite) compositions – the track Far From Home Suite Home from Spider-Man: Far From Home. The orchestra exploded with a fantastically heroic rendition of Spider-Man’s theme to start before then fading into romance with the film’s love motif. Horns then took the musical forefront for Nick Fury/S.H.I.E.L.D’s theme before then moving into darkness with an epic rendition of Mysterio’s theme (sadly sans electronics, but it was a live orchestra so we forgive them) and then finishing up with a decidedly epic reappearance of Spider-Man’s theme. All-in, it’s one hell of a suite on album, and even better on stage.

mysterioThe orchestra performing Mysterio’s theme from Spider-Man: Far From Home.

The Victor Of Round 6: You Know My Name was great, but I’m afraid Giacchino’s Spider-Man: Far From Home has it sorely beaten here with a truly spectacular (see what I did there) orchestral performance of the end credits suite. As you might know if you read my score review for it I particularly enjoyed Giacchino’s Far From Home soundtrack release, and my opinion of it just got better hearing it live in concert here. Winner: Michael Giacchino. Score stands at 3:3.

And with that, round seven began. In another surprising cameo appearance, Neil Gaiman took to the stage (a renowned author who recently adapted his novel Good Omens into a particularly great Amazon TV series) and announced the first of the round’s musical challengers; David Arnold’s main theme from his Good Omens score. Dramatic strings and a methodical piano stole the show for much of the theme’s three minute performance, and all-in I found myself very much enjoying this particular performance, even more so considering how accurate it was compared to the theme’s album version (which I have heard more than a few times). Cameos it seems were aplenty this round, as none other than film director Colin Trevorrow then arrived onstage to at first mistakenly and hilariously introduce Jurassic World (which was then corrected by an apologetic Giacchino), hint at a third Jurassic installment from the composer and then unveil the real counter to Arnold; Married Life from Up. It always was a beautiful piece of music and in concert it was absolutely no different, starting off hopeful and upbeat before then sinking into sadness towards the end in a near tear-jerking manner.

The Victor Of Round 7: That being said however, I find myself leaning more towards David Arnold this round. His Good Omens theme is fantastic, and the concert performance of it was simply amazing. It really is tough to choose between these two composers at the best of times, and here that is certainly the case, but for me – Good Omens just takes it. Winner: David Arnold. Score stands at 4:3.

We were then treated to a rather silly but incredibly enjoyable bonus round of sorts, which started rather seriously with David Arnold singing quite a beautiful piano-based rendition of We Nearly Had It All from musical Made In Dagenham (and I’ll tell you this – David Arnold can SING) before Michael then took to the stage and typically switched up the tone from semi-solemnity to silliness with a Star Wars themed sea shanty. Despite Arnold’s warnings of us Brits not being particularly keen on audience participation Giacchino insisted that we sing along, which overall resulted in one of the most unexpected but honestly enjoyable aspects of the evening. Who’d have thought I’d be singing about Star Wars with Michael Giacchino and David Arnold in the Royal Albert Hall on a Friday night? I certainly didn’t.

20191018_214942Another rather grainy photo (nobody said I was any good at photography) of Michael Giacchino and David Arnold singing Star Wars sea shanties live on stage.

After that rather entertaining side-event, things got serious again with the final musical battle of the evening; round eight. Arnold and Giacchino once again arrived onstage (this time in costume), and introduced the first of the two final film score acts of the night; David Arnold’s Independence Day. The orchestra then performed the full uncut end credits suite from the film, and as you might expect, it was absolutely phenomenal. The booming and bombastic brass playing the main ID4 theme at the start and then somehow even louder and more heroic at the end was an experience that I can barely describe with words, and something that I am not going to forget for a very long time to come. However, the best (for me) was yet to come, as then it was Michael’s turn, and he had an ace up his sleeve; Star Trek. Or more specifically; Star Trek, Into Darkness and Beyond. The suite began with the logos rendition of the main theme before then seguing into a staggeringly beautiful playthrough of the Yorktown theme from Beyond, turning darker with Khan’s theme from Into Darkness before raising the volume as loud as it could possibly go with a truly spectacular and mindblowingly-epic full rendition of Giacchino’s Star Trek theme. It floored me, I’m not going to lie.

The Victor Of The Final Round: Again, another extremely tough one. This round was honestly the most difficult choice of all the “battles”, but I’ve made it – I’ve got to go with Michael Giacchino. I love the score for Independence Day and its performance here was amazing, but that Star Trek theme was just made to be played in concert. The brass, the epic percussion, all of it – it just soared. This of course means that the final score tally stands at (drum roll please) 4:4 – a tie. Which if I’m honest, is how it should be really. These two composers are both equally amazing in their own ways, and they have both composed a considerable amount of music that I truly and deeply love.

20191018_215747It would seem that the Royal Albert Hall agreed with my conclusion, as it awarded the winning trophy to both David Arnold and Michael Giacchino at the end of the event.

Overall, I was absolutely staggered by just how amazing this concert was. I’m still coming down off the high I got from it even as I write this. I’ve never actually been to a proper film music concert before, and now that I’ve experienced one, I will most certainly be attending a great many more. For me, the best performances were David Arnold’s fantastic Stargate and Michael Giacchino’s epic Star Trek, which both practically brought a tear to my eye as I watched them, and if I could pay to see them again and again I absolutely would. Apologies for the absurd length of this review, but I just couldn’t stop the words of utter praise flowing.

To David Arnold and Michael Giacchino – I love you both, keep doing what you’re doing please, for many years to come.

What an evening.

 

Concert Score: 10/10

Standout Moment: David Arnold’s Stargate.

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