I’ve had the good fortune to attend concerts at the Royal Albert Hall three times in the past year (the BBC Proms, Classic FM Live and Planet Earth II Live) and the latest venture to the capital proved to be the most consistently moving.
For a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon matinee of a concert made up of highlights from the most-watched TV show in the UK for 2016, the Hall was packed.
PEII producer Michael Gunton introduced himself, the concert, welcomed us all to the event, then mentioned they had a “surprise special guest”. It was none other than composer Hans Zimmer himself!
The Oscar-winning maestro of The Lion King, also Inception, The Dark Knight and The Simpsons Movie skipped onto stage to raucous applause.
“Don’t applaud me!” he begged. “Applaud this!”, as he gestured to the BBC Concert Orchestra assembled behind him and the huge screen waiting to show us the footage from the TV series.
He went on to say that while Planet Earth II contained some of the most dramatic scenes he had composed for, he also thought of it as a kind of “meet the neighbours”. After all, we do share the planet with these animals.
Zimmer then introduced his young co-composer Jacob Shea, who conducted the opening sequence showing clips on the big screen, accompanied by the extended opening score.
Seeing the stunning pictures of our beautiful yet fragile planet alongside the live orchestra was decidedly emotional and within minutes I had something in my eye!
Shea departed the podium and Gunton welcomed conductor Jessica Cottis to lead the rest of the performance.
So we began our journey around the globe, from the amorous pygmy sloth in Escudo to the brave chinstrap penguins facing the breakers on Zavodovski.
The most-talked-about sequence, the baby iguanas being chased by racer snakes, was as tense as the first viewing. Gunton has seen it hundreds of times and still cheers the iguanas! Needless to say, the little iguana received the biggest clap when it evaded its predators.
It also showcased a miracle of timing, as, after a brief pause, the live orchestra pounced to coincide with a snake popping up like a whack-a-snake fairground attraction.
Yet there was humour throughout the scenes. From the not-gettin’-any sloth sitting truculently in a tree to his rapidly piqued interest in a new female, to the “dancing” bears and flamingoes on parade, all given a sprinkling of jollity by the music.
While I would happily listen to Sir David Attenborough read the phone book aloud, the omission of his narration put the focus more on the music.
During the locust invasion of Madagascar, I lowered my eyes to watch the orchestra for more than a fleeting moment, as an insect the size of a cinema screen is like to give me nightmares for a month. It’s just as fascinating to watch the orchestra’s ebbs and flows under the conductor’s elegant and expressive hand gestures.
The concert ended as it had begun with a montage of both broadcast and behind the scenes footage, along with the soaring main theme.
In my quest to focus on acquiring “experiences over things”, this has to be one of the most fulfilling experiences. On my calendar it looked like a brief postscript two weeks after returning from an epic New Zealand holiday, but this concert proved just as epic and transported me around the world without leaving England!
However, having found this concert so moving only two years after Planet Earth II was first broadcast, I fear I’ll be an emotional wreck for Jurassic Park in Concert at the Sage Gateshead in September! That score has had an extra 23 years to worm its way into my psyche.
Watch this space!