Turning 50 years old is an important milestone in life, or at least that’s what Michael Giacchino thought, who decided to celebrate it in a very special way: throwing a big party with a concert on Friday 20th of October 2017. London’s Royal Albert Hall was the venue selected for the event, a concert called “Michael Giacchino at 50 – A Birthday Gala Celebration”, which was going to encompass the most important works in Michael‘s career (and let me tell you… he has enough glorious music to fill a 3 hour concert… and even more!).
For those who haven’t been to the Royal Albert Hall, I have to tell you that the venue is really impressive! An oval-shaped building that holds a big elliptical arena, that can accommodate 5.272 seats distributed in different heights. For this concert, the capacity of the hall was nearly reached, and I’d say at least 80% of the seats were occupied from what I could view from my place (Arena – Left Side – Row 11).
The concert was starting at 7:30 p.m. but from 6:30 p.m. and onwards the people were entering the building. Once into the impressive arena you could see a huge screen over the stage and the orchestra, where clips from movies and still pictures were going to be projected during the night. As a nice bonus, while the ambiance was warming up and people were reaching their seats, we could enjoy a slideshow of Michael Giacchino’s drawings from when he was 9 years old (back in 1976). Those drawings were Spiderman, Star Trek’s Enterprise spaceship and an ape riding a horse from Planet of the Apes! It’s incredible that 30-40 years later, Michael would end scoring all those movies and franchises! Amazing memories shared with the audience, that were a prelude of what we could expect during the night. By the way, a fantastic program holding all those drawings and many more family pictures, with a heartwarming introduction text titled “Growing up with Michael” written by her sister and producer of the concert Maria Giacchino, was being sold for 7 GBP at many points of the venue. That program also had the track-list that was going to be performed and commentaries and biographies of all the guests. Very recommendable.
But let’s go on with the concert itself. Lights came out and a man appeared on stage (David Silverman) with a sousaphone (a big instrument that looks like a tuba) who started playing an unknown tune that suddenly ended in a Happy Birthday Song, that was sung by the whole audience. Nice and tender moment. And just without time to breathe, the Cinematic Sinfonia conducted by Ludwig Wicki started the concert with a big piece, The Incredibles, full of rhythm and energy, fantastically followed by a frantic and perfectly timed video montage from the movie. Adrenaline burst to begin! That’s the way to start a concert!!
After a big applause from the audience, Adam Savage, host of the night, appeared from one side of the stage dressed as Mr. Incredible, getting a big laugh from the public.
But this was just the first of many surprises to come during the night! Next was the turn of the music from Michael’s first big hit, the video game Medal of Honor, which was well performed and had the support of the English Chamber Choir at the end, with just a few static images projected during the 8-minute suite.
Following Arranged Marriage from Jupiter Ascending came (“It’s a Hellava Chase” from the original Cd release), with dynamic shifting images of Jupiter on the main screen, helping to mood a very good musical piece that had strength and intensity, boosted by the voices of the choir.
A brief pause was made and a dinosaur appeared on stage. Well, in fact it was Adam Savage again, but dressed in a plastic dinosaur costume, introducing Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World movie, who was going to present the next theme.
Colin had some words for Michael saying that he gave him instructions to go to “dinosaur-church” of the soundtracks when composing for the movie, and so he did. The suite of Jurassic World was powerful and melodic, intertwining very well many of the main themes of the score, delivering a proper ending to the piece. Very good performance of the orchestra, for a very good suite.
Adam Savage, dressed as Doctor Strange made another appearance on stage, and introduced actor Benedict Wong from the movie, who had some words for Michael before letting the orchestra and the music speak for him.
We thought that it was clear what we were going to enjoy next; Doctor Strange, but in fact we had a three-part act, a Marvel Suite, that encompassed Marvel Studios Logo music, Doctor Strange – Suite and Spider-man: Homecoming – Suite, ending with an unreleased alternate take of the logo and its music, closing a perfect musical circle. A fantastic video montage from the movies and the logo were projected on screen, that were perfectly followed and synchronized by Ludwig Wicki’s conducting of the Cinematic Sinfonia. I have always thought that Doctor Strange’s music had something special, different from other works that Michael Giacchino has addressed lately, and enjoying it live confirmed my suspicions, as it was a real blast.
We were still recovering from this fantastic suite that lasted about 8 minutes, when a group of Stormtroopers went on stage with the host dressed as the Admiral Krennick from Rogue One. In a funny speech, Savage stated that we were going to presence the images and music of a tragic documentary, of how the coward rebels attacked a high-value facility of the empire, leading to its destruction and to the loss of many innocent lives. “An act that should not be left without punishment”.
The audience laughed and when his speech was finished, director Gareth Edwards followed him on stage, to talk about his work with Michael, telling a couple of fun stories.
One story was about a day working in the studio, when he approached Michael and asked him what he was doing. Michael replied that he was naming the cues of the soundtrack, and read out loud the first and only three names he had for the moment, that to Gareth’s surprise were: “It takes one to Rogue One”, “Transmission Impossible” and “Live and Let Jedi”. The audience laughed and applauded, and he jumped to the second joke, saying he was glad to see so many people in the hall to enjoy and celebrate Michael’s 50th birthday, although his concept of birthday parties was different and didn’t involve people paying 50 GBP to get invited (more laughs followed that sentence).
At this point it was clear that the concert was not only about the music, but about the life and human qualities of Michael Giacchino, where each and every guest that came on stage (and there were many!), gave a little bit of light and led to know better this fabulous composer, not only as a musician, but as a person. Stories telling about a kid’s innocence and curiosity in a grown-up body, with a natural born talent and ability for filmmaking, channeled through his music.
After the speech, Rogue One – Suite was performed, with a soft cello delving the melody and the emotion of Jyn Erso & Hope’s theme, in a piece that lasted nearly 9 minutes and that had the softness and sentimental touch of the main theme, the dark melodies of the empire, and the scent of the hope that keeps the rebellion alive. Fantastic suite, impressive performance, and marvelous video montage shown on screen. One of the best pieces of the night, corresponded by a thunderous applause from the audience!
Next, a white polar bear costume jumped on stage, just to reveal again Adam Savage inside, who introduced Carlton Cuse, co-creator and writer of Lost TV Series.
He threw in a couple of facts, such as that the TV series had 6 seasons with an average of 20 episodes, and the first season with 24 episodes, translated to British standards, meant 70 years of Sherlock! Very funny! And he also stated that Michael had to work hard during the series, on a tight weekly schedule, that had produced more than 50 hours of music at the end of the series!
To end his speech, Cuse asked for some help from the previous Stormtroopers, who escorted Michael Giacchino on stage, replacing Wicki from his conducting duties for the rest of the first half.
And thus the piece performed next was Lost – Parting Words, the final piece played at the end of the first season, when people stranded on the island build a boat, and try to escape to find help from the outside world. A nearly 10 minute piece that started with the Korean couple talking and repenting about their doings, as the music delivered some kind of soft redemption, in case it was the last time they would ever meet again, to later evolve into a sentimental farewell of the people staying on the island to the brave navigators. The music grows as the scene grows, and reaches its climax when the boat is launched. The music turns then from the farewell to the encouragement, the adventure, and the well-being wishes for those who part; heroes with an uncertain future. Music gives hope, but also encompasses uncertainty. A fantastic suite that ended with the 5 seconds of Lost’s ending stinger (composed by J.J. Abrams), so typical of the series, that made the audience laugh and relieve emotions. A brilliant piece!!
And thus, after 75 minutes of show, at 8:45 p.m. we arrived to the intermission, in a concert that we already knew it was going to be special, but that after what we witnessed, nobody thought it could surprise us so much as it was doing.
At 9:05 p.m. the second half of the concert started and it did with the Bond Quartet (a string quartet composed of four girls) performing Up – Married Life in a very sweet and minimalist version, that could have used the orchestra to complement the melodies and give a higher dimension to the piece, as they were just looking while the music was played.
After this suite the host walked on stage with some color helium balloons, in a funny reference to Up, introducing director Pete Docter who took the balloons and standing up with them talked about the next piece: One Man Band – Pixar Animated Short, the first music Michael composed for Pixar before jumping into feature films. The whole short was projected while the music was played live in a perfect synchronization, fantastically performed by the Cinematic Sinfonia conducted sharply and precisely by Ludwig Wicki. A bright and vivid piece, very tied to the image, in a perfect Mickey mousing exercise. Funny and brilliant!
Now it was the turn of Andrew Stanton, director of John Carter of Mars, who took out of his pocket a cd of the score Michael wrote for the movie (“a score nobody listened for a movie nobody saw” as he jokingly said) and read the liner notes he wrote at the time, praising Michael’s abilities. They were as valid then as they were now. When he finished, he offered the CD to the public giving it to a girl sitting on one the first rows. A very lucky girl, as the CD was signed by both, Andrew & Michael!! Following, Wicki waved his hand and the orchestra started playing the beginning of John Carter of Mars, in a dynamic, strong and very well-balanced suite.
Next theme was a suite for Ratatouille – Jazz Fantasia, a short piece of approximately 4 minutes, that started showing the little protagonist Remy on the center of a black screen, as the lens was getting wider and wider, uncovering a scene with rooftops of a nightscape of Paris, while the music narrated the origins, the intentions, and the developments of this extraordinary duo of mouse/cook. Music with a soft Parisian touch, spiced up with very nice agile jazzy rhythms.
Now David Silverman appeared again on stage, and this time he read a letter from director Brad Bird, who couldn’t get to the celebration as his flight was grounded in the USA. In his place, young actress Raffey Cassidy gave a brief speech before jumping to another of the highlights of the night, the suite for Tomorrowland. A movie that unfortunately did not go well financially speaking, but has a superb soundtrack which comprises adventure, discovery, exploration, and futuristic sense, with strong, melodic and remarkable music, boosted by the voices of the choir and the sound of a fantastic brass section. 4 minutes that passed like 4 seconds! Brilliant!
Following, the theme Roar! from Cloverfield was played, a movie that has no music except in the end credits, where Michael did an impressive job for orchestra and choir getting all the tension and tragedy of the story. Wonderfully performed!
Director Matt Reeves came on stage to introduce the next piece of music, a suite of the recent War for the Planet of the Apes. The piece was conducted by Michael Giacchino himself, with a good suite that was synchronized to a video montage, where unfortunately the sound of the click-track could be heard at the beginning; something that was corrected later during the performance.
And when there was approximately 10 p.m., one of the most awaited moments of the night came as Michael introduced director J.J. Abrams on stage, to talk about the next piece, an 8-minute Star Trek – Suite that had music from the three movies linked backwards chronologically, Star Trek – Beyond, Star Trek – Into the Darkness & Star Trek, to a very good video-montage. A very well balanced suite, with a good succession of soft and strong passages, giving a nice musical review of the series, and ending with the strong “Enterprising Young Men” theme, which had the full power of the choir. Beautiful performance of the orchestra and choir, and big applause of the audience.
After that, it was the moment of Super 8, but the music didn’t have the chance to start as there was the presence of a special guest, Gonzo from The Muppets (Dave Goelz), the same Muppets that Michael has told on many occasions he admires. After a bizarre and funny chat with J.J. Abrams and Michael, Gonzo left the stage and Michael went to the podium to conduct the orchestra. A few notes started to be played, but Gonzo came out on stage again interrupting. After a brief chat, both Michael and Gonzo sang “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” a beautiful song about friendship written by Paul Williams for the Muppets Movie.
And now, yes!, it was the moment for Super 8, which had some problems at the beginning as the click-track was not working properly. Michael decided to start the piece anyway, without his earpiece and with an applause of the audience, but after 10 seconds he had to stop the orchestra, because things were not going as he wanted, and said “wait, wait, we have to stop… because you want to have this right, don’t you?”. And he started again, and this time it was for real!!
Super 8’s music was played by the orchestra, soft and innocent, while a young Michael Giacchino’s amateur videos were being projected on the big screen. Videos that Michael and his friends made when they were young, full of funny and creative moments, compensating the lack of budget with plenty of imagination. A wonderful and very appropriate background for the soundtrack of Super 8, whose music really gave a new dimension to the images, making us feel part of a family video projection, gathering together to view childhood videos of one of the members. It was an incredible moment and a really enjoyable one, not only for the music that was great, but for the ambience created for those videos. This was another of the highlights of the night.
And now it was supposed to be the end of the concert, at 10:30 p.m. after 3 hours from the beginning… but in fact it wasn’t, as after a huge standing ovation from the audience that didn’t want to leave the hall, Michael jumped back on the podium. He conducted the music of Speed Racer, in a frantic video montage of the movie that was perfectly tucked by the fast action music. Big applause as all the special guests came on stage, lined up on one side of the composer, all smiling, clapping and looking at him, while Michael was given a framed picture of the concert’s poster, signed by all the people that were part of this wonderful night.
But Michael Giacchino was not going to end this celebration so easily. It was his 50th birthday party and he wanted it to be even more special, so he asked the audience “do you want to hear more?”, and after a loud YES, he addressed the orchestra and started to play the music of his next movie in a world premiere: Pixar’s Coco. Joyful music with big Mexican style influences.
Another big applause followed the performance, and when we thought that was going to be the end, Michael went for another encore, the music from Alias (“Bristow and Bristow” piece), his first TV show, directed and produced by J.J. Abrams, which marked the beginning of a fantastic collaboration, and the end of a wonderful concert at 10:50 p.m.
Three hours of music, many special guests that with difficulty will be seen again together on another occasion, and a great feeling of being part of a special celebration in the audience. A once in a lifetime celebration with once in a lifetime concert, that Michael Giacchino decided to share with us at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Happy, grateful, excited, and with the music of many of the themes played that night in our heads, it was time to leave the venue.
Happy birthday Michael Giacchino! Felicidades! Your 50th birthday is something you/we won’t forget in a long long time!
Gorka Oteiza (SoundTrackFest)