Game of Thrones Live at the Air Canada Centre. March 3.
“Dracarys”. Fire spouts from the stage, it’s a hot flash that can be felt well back into the Air Canada Centre. This is Game of Thrones Live, and there’s fire on stage, lots of fire. There’s a split second of stunned silence before cheers of enjoyment start up. More fire spews forth, some of it from the bottom of the giant 40-foot tall screens, following the dragons on screen as they burn through the slavers of Meereen. There’s a massive stage in the centre of the ACC that stretches across the arena. On one end, an orchestra and choir, four wings in the middle, and a far stage that rises. This entire concert is an incredible musical and visual experience.
Game of Thrones has radically changed the TV landscape with its detail, gore, and attention to the story. But no television show or movie is complete without its accompanying soundtrack. Ramin Djawadi has scored all the music of Game of Thrones six seasons. Three years ago he began the journey of the concert experience along with the showrunners David Benioff, D.B Weiss, and LiveNation. Toronto audiences were lucky stops on the limited North American tour.
This is a concert unlike any other. Pyrotechnics and technical magic meet classical music in a fundamental shift away from how music is normally presented. Huge screens display clips of the show, designs and art, and live shots of the musicians in action. The marrying of the music to the visuals that inspired them is fantastic. It is hard to imagine either being successful without each other. There is no greater connection to music than the stories they tell. Djawadi is exceptional at conveying the story with his music. We understand and feel the impact of the story because his music helps us there.
The song “Hold the Door” is one such example. The stirring string lines are punctuated with drums that keep the music driven and insistent. It breaks way to pitch bending in the cello before settling into a heart breaking theme for Hodor’s death. In this beloved series, there is no shortage of powerful stories and stirring musical themes that accompany them from the massacre of the Red Wedding, to Jon Snow and Ygritte’s love, to Khaleesi becoming the Queen of Dragons, to Arya and her trusty sword, Needle.
A lot of the compositions feel familiar because they play off of the main theme. There is a recurring interval, down a fifth, minor third up, full tone up, full tone up, back down a fifth — by and large, this is the opening theme. Djawadi uses it in different keys, different instruments, and different time signatures throughout the stories he’s telling. We hear bits of it often in many of the songs attributed to Daenerys and the themes of the Stark children at various times.
The show travelled from Montreal to Toronto and was set up in less than 24 hours. They will be in Boston on Monday. It’s a whirlwind of a tour with an incredible amount of technical work that wraps up on April 2nd, 2017, just in time for Djawadi to begin work scoring the upcoming 7th season; premiering later this summer. Djawadi gave us some stats about the tour: 8 buses to move crew and performers, 15 semi-trucks to move the stage and equipment, 136 speakers to bring the music to life.
There are 19 locally-hired singers (from That Choir) accompanying a freelance orchestra of about 40 with eight staple performers conducted by Djawadi. Djawadi, unlike many of his contemporaries, does not shy away from including choral voices in his work. To be fair, there’s not much that seems to not make it into his work period. The numerous instruments, the diverse sound — it’s all signature to his compositional style and makes for incredibly interesting music.
Of the band traveling with Djawadi, there are three on percussion, providing a literal heartbeat to the music. If there’s a sure thing about Djawadi’s compositions, it’s that they have percussion. There two players with key themes on the cello and violin, but it is the cello that defines a lof of the iconic sound of Djawadi’s Game of Thrones work. After all, the main theme is on cello. In a lot of Djawadi’s other work, the soundtrack to Westworld for example, piano features heavily. The keyboardist takes the reins of the orchestra when Djawadi steps away to play instruments, which he does — organ, piano, guitar, and hammered dulcimer amongst others. But it is the ethnic flute player, Pedro Eustache, who gets the bulk of the praise. On Armenian duduk, bass flute, ocarina, flute, pan flute, and more, he brings life to instruments and sounds that Djawadi uses throughout his pieces.
Huge entertainment events like this don’t come around very often. I hope you were one of the 19,000 who got to experience this mega-event. If you haven’t, check out the many clips fans have posted on Youtube under #GameofThronesLive.