• Ben Erickson

Game of Thrones

Exclusive, in depth musical analysis on Game of Thrones - written by yours truly - now available!

Concert review originally published in the October 2018 issue of Film Score Monthly:

The fall air was crisp on Friday evening as Montreal residents flooded through the subways. Strangers shared coy smiles at overhearing a conversation about Jon Snow or Daenerys Targaryen, and relished in the excitement as fans from all walks of life congregated in the Bell Centre for the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience. The concert has been met with raging success, lauded not only for its spellbinding music, but also for its unique visual aesthetic that involves a 360 degree stage, 3D visuals, elaborate lighting, pyrotechnics, and one of a kind sets to interact with the audience. Since February 2017 it has toured twice through North America and once through Europe, featuring music from seasons one through six and led by composer Ramin Djawadi. Djawadi wanted to make the experience as immersive as possible, taking three years to design the concert in close association with a production team and continually evolving it as the troupe toured. The Bell Centre was divided into two sections, with the principle "King's Landing" stage at the front of the arena hosting a local 80-piece orchestra and choir, and a separate stage midway for soloist exhibits. The concert itself consisted of two acts, travelling through many of the major musical themes in a chronological sequence while events from the show long forgotten played out on-screen like time-honoured traditions. Its title, "Music is Here", plays on the words of House Stark, "Winter is Coming". The performance opened with a fun recorded dialogue from Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), moving into eerie electronic textures before unceremoniously exploding into the Game of Thrones theme. The growing anticipation up to this announcement held an electrifying air, prompting a seismic eruption from the audience and made all the more memorable by several addresses from Djawadi himself. The Iranian-German composer took opportunities to encourage audience participation, showing his appreciation for the unprecedented fan response to the music and conducting much of the concert with an elegant repose. On occasion he would even step out to offer his salt as a brazen rock star. Pianist Michael Sobie, affectionately known to his comrades as Hand of the King, would step up in these instances and assume the conductor's responsibilities. A commitment to the rustic allure of the music was witnessed not only from the podium but also in the inviting collaboration between performers. Holly Rogers' ardent violin soared as no other when, in gaping astonishment, she was hoisted above the stage and transformed into a Weirwood tree, all the while striking a forlorn, Celtic beauty with her bow. Cellist Cameron Stone lent a similarly enchanting – if dark – timbre to the evening, furiously sawing away at his electric strings in "Army of the Dead" and displaying an unrivaled fervour through each of the love themes. The passion offered by these performers was unmistakable, surmounted only by Venezuelan born woodwind extraordinaire Pedro Eustache. Dressed as one of the Free Folk, Eustache took up at least six instruments that night, a few of which had been fashioned by himself specially for the tour. The arsenal included an Armenian duduk, bass flute, a fourteen-foot long Wildling horn, a huge pan flute extending nearly his full height, and a flexible didgeridoo with which he embraced an interpretive dance. The technique that had been sacrificed by Eustache for purity of expression did not find its way to singer-songwriter Stevvi Alexander. Despite offering a fresh dimension to the music with new-age inspired vocals there prevailed a scarcity in diction and breath control, all too evident during "The Rains of Castamere". To be sure the mic balance and choice of register were against her, but the entry of the Choeur de Musiques de Films only made this dearth more pronounced when taking up the romantic language of Old Valyria. The Montreal orchestra players were more outwardly restrained in their enthusiasm by comparison to the lead performers, but it shone through in the music all the same. Davey Cegwidden, M.B. Gordy, and Alan Lightner each had fascinating percussive gifts to offer. Whether it was the driving force of Japanese taiko drums, Indian tablas, or a standard drum kit, there was never a dull moment. But audience members agree it was the lead maestro who took the cake, performing the hammered dulcimer for "Needle", pulling all the stops with an impressively theatrical organ show in reenacting the destruction of Baelor's Sept, and jamming out on an electric guitar as dragon fire brought death and destruction to the screen. Virtually every piece was adapted from the show and written into a separate concert arrangement, making for a fresh, rewarding experience, especially for those rare spectators who knew the original score like the back of their hand. Certain themes from the show were missing, and in outlying spots where the energy fell through it helped to have a stadium beer close at hand, but all in all the concert well encapsulated the emotional journey of the show, even presenting two additional pieces from the latest season. The artistic license taken by the performers too was equally fulfilling, demonstrating a deep trust in one another and exposing certain instruments with new intrigue. Hearing the exotic instruments in particular was a real joy, and for everyone in attendance the fantasy of the evening will surely hold them over until the final season is released. This review brought to you from the second-to-last show in Montreal, October 12, 2018.