James Newton Howard is one of the great soundtrack composers of our time with scores like those of The Hunger Games and The Village. You’d think he’d stop working and just rest on his laurels, but Howard is now on tour through Europe conducting his own creations.

If you are a soundtrack buff like me, you live in a golden age. Not only do you have a deluge of music to play through Spotify but composers like James Newton Howard, Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi are on tour throughout the world.

We visited Howard in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. One of the worlds most famous concert halls. He seemed to be aware of the fact he is performing on hallowed ground. Referring to and thanking the organizers and staff of the concert hall profusely.

The concert itself was a combination of music and film projected on a large screen. It showed scenes from the movies that Howard scored. At times a few lines of the movies blasted through the speakers to give a dramatic edge to the music. I will admit I never liked that way of using the images during a concert. I’d rather listen to the music than the actors, as I can Netflix those at home. Howard didn’t go overboard though, mostly using the movie clips as illustrations.

Part of the Orchestra

From our seats we were almost part of the orchestra, being only a few yards away from the maestro himself. That made for a spectacular show. We could see his every move. He told the audience that he was an amateur conductor. But from the thunderous applause Howard got throughout the show, we concluded that the ‘amateur’ conductor killed on stage. And seeing him conducting his own music is a spectacle to behold.

James Newton Howard Inside the Orchestra

At several moments during the concert, Howard runs… well carefully walks, over to his piano on the other side of the stage. He gives the audience a look inside his creative process and into his life. One thing he really emphasizes is that you should create a ‘solo album’ if you have one in you. That’s how he got his big break, starring on a tour with Elton John.

One of the musical highlights of the evening is the ‘Gravel Road’ performed by a virtuoso James Ehnes and the orchestra. It’s one of his most inspired pieces of music and having gifted musicians performing it live is epic. Below is the rendition by Juggernoud1, to give you an idea what it should sound like when done right. (Incidentally, he is a fan of Howard’s too.)

All in all, this concert is well balanced with the odd annoyance of the movie clips being a bit on the loud side. But this might be something you won’t notice at all. Bottom line is that you don’t get that many chances to see these composers in real life. If you’re into movie music at all, go and see the concert. The performance is great and Howard is a remarkable person to watch at work. And he has a few surprises up his sleeve during the show which I won’t ruin beforehand.

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