TD Garden, Boston MA, March 6, 2017
Large-scale television series can provide a composer the opportunity to create a musical world on a broader canvas and the capability to develop it thematically to a greater extent than more standalone film projects. Ramin Djawadi, given creative support from the producers, was able to create a soundscape for the world of Westeros on a grand scale and used the large span of the show to develop themes for characters across seasons. Djawadi’s emphasis on percussion, ethnic instrumentation, and soloists in his writing makes Game of Thrones stand out in a way similar to Bear McCreary’s Battlestar Galactica. Also like the space opera show, Game of Thrones also developed a fan base eager for more, and thus a live concert performance of the music from multiple seasons was created.
I had the amazing opportunity to see Djawadi’s Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience in Boston. My sister, Kelly, is a student at Berklee, where Djawadi also attended, and he acknowledged that this was his homecoming concert, as he had not been back to Boston since leaving Berklee 17 years ago. This live concert experience was crafted to be more than a musical performance and included a stage for the orchestra linked to a variety of other smaller stages for soloists to stand. The opposing stage to the orchestra moved up to let a soloist rise up on a pedestal and three circular screens that were moved to project different scenes. These were accentuated by snow, leaves, green fire, and dragon fire falling and spewing from places above. Djawadi even performed himself, including playing the hammered dulcimer for Arya’s theme and piano for the epic “Light of the Seven” piece. The astounding part of this experience was the technical complexity and flawless performance. The set was constructed from the traveling group for a single performance and everything worked – at least as far as the audience could tell. Music was separated from the scenes for which they were written to give more freedom to the new orchestrations, but edited clips from the show did accompany the performances.
After a series of sparks and fire effects on the stage, the concert opened with the Main Title, of course. It continues to astound me how unique and iconic this theme is. I’ve wanted to ask Djawadi about the composition of it, what inspired it and when he knew he “had it”, and especially HBO’s reaction the first time they heard it. This theme is the driving force behind the score’s popularity. Even people who haven’t seen the show know this theme. The concert followed this with a medley of all the house themes, which was a very smart idea as it helped define for the audience all the musical motifs and instrumentations to be heard later on. The screens above the stage showed both clips of the house characters and the banners of each house, and allowed for a bold rendition of Djawadi’s fantastic theme for the Greyjoy family. Also early on was a vocal performance of the Lannister theme in the form of the song “Rains of Castemere” by vocalist Stephanie Alexander (pictured above).
This song was the first moment of the night that showcased what the concert setting was able to do for this music that the show cannot, which is expand and embolden the score. The music in the show has to take a backseat to the dialogue and sound effects, plus is limited in length by the editing. Here, Djawadi took full advantage of the live setting to reorchestrate many of the themes and show cues to reach volumes, levels, and instrumentation not permitted by the show’s limitations.
The full power of the 65-piece orchestra, choir, and soloists was best used for the Khaleesi pieces. Djawadi has said that her theme, often given a duduk instrumentation, was hard to develop and took the entire first season, before the finale where she steps out of the fire, for it to come into its own. I particularly like how a simple three-note theme for Daenerys is tied to the main theme for these usually season-ending cues. The concert performed excellent renditions of the “Mhysa” cue from Season 3 (pictured above) and the “Winds of Winter” from Season 6, the latter of which appropriately ended the concert.
Season 6 featured prominently in the second half of the concert, as the score for this past season was a step above past seasons, (and was recently awarded television score of the year by IFMCA). Included was the “Battle of the Bastards” cue, a percussive and energetic fight cue that ends with the most triumphant the Stark theme can really get as Sansa arrives with the Knights of the Vale. Then, Djawadi walked to the other side of the stage and played the piano solo for “Light of the Seven” from the Season 6 finale episode, ending with green fire spewing up from the stage around him. The set lowered a steel septagram for the scenes in the temple (pictured below). They ended the concert with the foreshadowing cue “Winds of Winter” as the ships and dragons set out for Westeros.
As the house lights came on, an encore erupted when Djawadi picked up his guitar and the band played the rousing song “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while the screens played a list of in memoriam characters that have died on the show… needless to say that took a while. This concert’s production and execution were spot on, Djawadi was clearly having fun and genuinely grateful to the fans, and the timing of the show was perfect following six seasons of music and leading into what is undoubtedly an epic final season.