Michael Giacchino’s 50th birthday celebration at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday night was a truly special and memorable experience.
As the audience took their seats before the performance there were drawings by a young Mr. Giacchino of Spider-Man, Planet of the Apes and Star Trek, franchises he would later in life be writing music for up on the big screen above where the orchestra would be performing. Straight away you could tell this was going to be a personal retrospective evening that shared old family photographs and video clips showing us just how much his love for movies and music dates back to his childhood. A young Giacchino had a dream and passion for making movies and he never let it go.
The event was hosted by Michael’s friend, Adam Savage (he loves to cosplay, I’ll come back to that shortly). The majority of the music was conducted by Ludwig Wicki and performed by the Cinematic Sinfonia and English Chamber Choir who were joined by Bond Quartet for his Oscar winning ‘Married Life’ from Up.
The evening started with a tuba player playing Happy Birthday and the audience sang along. A short video compilation of old family super 8 videos showed a young Michael with friends and family narrated by his parents telling us how much a trip to Universal Studios affected him as a child.
The first score to be performed was The Incredibles. Afterwards, Adam Savage appeared on stage wearing what was going to be the first of many costumes he wore, Mr. Incredible. Next up was Michael’s score for the video game Medal of Honour followed by ‘Arranged Marriage’ from Jupiter Ascending. Adam Savage came back on wearing an inflatable dinosaur costume and introduced Colin Trevorrow to talk about his time collaborating with Michael and taking him to “dinosaur church” on Jurassic World. Adam’s next cosplay was Doctor Strange and he introduced Benedict Wong to chat about the fantastic Doctor Strange theme which was performed along with the MCU pre-movie sequence and Spider-Man: Homecoming which all combined for a wonderful Marvel suite.
Adam Savage then appeared on stage wearing an Orson Krennic costume flanked by ten 501st UK Garrison stormtroopers. The crowd erupted at this point as Adam introduced Rogue One director, Gareth Edwards. Gareth took the opportunity to jokingly roast Giacchino for his punny music titles, having a birthday party where everyone invited paid £50 entry and warned Disney lawyers that Michael had an exact replica of Disney’s Adventureland in his garden. This was obviously a cue for a fantastic segment dedicated to Michael’s Rogue One score. The crowd loved the sequential highlights of the movie on the big screen above the performers and was a highlight of the evening for most attending, I would say.
A polar bear was Adam’s next costume signalling a moment that I’ve been waiting to experience for many years. Lost showrunner Carlton Cuse came on stage and talked about how important the score was to the tv series. Personally, this was the show that introduced me to Michael’s genius talent. Giacchino came on stage at this point to conduct ‘Parting Words’, the music when the survivors launch a raft towards the end of season one and Vincent the dog swims out to the raft before being told to go back again. I’m not the only one to shed tears at this moment last night, I can tell you that!
After the interval Ludwick Wicki resumed conductor duties and was joined by Bond Quartet and performed the Oscar winning ‘Married Life’ from Pixar’s Up, directed by Pete Docter, who attended and spoke of his love for Giacchino. This was followed by Michael’s first collaboration with Pixar for the short film One Man Band. John Carter director, Andrew Stanton, was up next and he cracked open the soundtrack CD and read aloud the notes inside and gave the album to a lucky fan sat in the front row before John Carter of Mars was performed. Unfortunately Brad Bird, the director of Ratatouille, couldn’t be in attendance due to flight complications but he sent his love, and blamed United Airlines, via a note read out by David Silverman (The Simpson’s/Dreamworks/Pixar) before Ratatouille Jazz Fantasia was performed. The red, white and blue lighting on the arch ways high above the audience was really cool and eye catching at this point. Raffey Cassidy who played Athena in Tomorrowland signalled what was coming next. A thundering performance of Cloverfield’s Roar! shook the Royal Albert Hall’s foundations and director Matt Reeves was on stage to explain that due to the hand-held camera style of the movie, Michael’s music could only be used during the end credits. They would work again on Let Me In and the musical sequence which was conducted by Giacchino after being brought out again on stage by Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes. With another sequential clip shown on the screen I found myself tearing up for the second time that evening as I listened to the music and watched Caesar’s story.
Giacchino then asked his long time collaborator and friend J.J. Abrams to come on stage and say a few words before he conducted a Star Trek suite. Next? J.J. Abrams, The Great Gonzo and a poodle puppy. Yes, you read that correctly. Giacchino asked Abrams to come out again, and just as Abrams was in full flow talking about working with Michael and Steven Spielberg on Super 8, an unmistakably familiar voice was heard shouting out. The Great Gonzo (performed by Dave Goelz since 1975) complete with cape was here! What followed next was a throwback to a vintage The Muppets Show sketch. You know the ones where The Muppets would have celebrities at their variety show and all sorts of chaos would ensue before breaking into a tender song? That. Live. In front of us. Here. Now. Gonzo wasn’t advertised to be there so no one in the audience had any idea of what was going to happen next as The Great Gonzo wanted to perform a death defying stunt of being thrown into a cow by Giacchino and Abrams. All of a sudden I was transported back to (possibly) my very first memory of watching tv in the late 70’s, mesmerised by the sense of wonder and joy that those silly, felt, singing characters gave me. After the shock of seeing Gonzo there in front of me, I made a distinct decision not to look at Dave performing him. I wanted to feel that innocent child-like sense of not knowing the technical aspect of what I was witnessing. I just stared at the big screen and soaked in the site of Michael and J.J. chatting away to Gonzo like he was a regular dude. A spotlight lit up Pete Docter who was standing at the wings holding a piece of rope attached to the “cow”. He was having difficulty bringing the cow on stage so J.J. ran up to give him some help. Turns out the cow was actually a cute, fuzzy looking, poodle puppy and cries of “awwww” rang out from the audience. Obviously The Great Gonzo wasn’t going to be able to do his death defying stunt any longer so he disappeared as did J.J. and Pete, leaving Michael on stage ready conduct his next piece of music. Or so we thought. After a quick change into a tux, Gonzo reappeared and sung ‘I’m Going To Go Back There Someday’ with Michael. I had never heard Giacchino sing before but I shouldn’t have been surprised as their duet sounded lovely. There was a moment when the camera zoomed right in on Michael’s face and you could just tell by looking into his eyes that he was loving every second of this. He was totally transported and I bet he didn’t even see Dave at that point. It was just a young Giacchino and Gonzo being pals singing away.
That nostalgic feeling was the perfect segue into Michael conducting music from Super 8. There was a technical problem at this point and I’m really not sure what was giving him difficulty (I’m guessing that a mic or speaker battery needing replaced) but at one point he took his ear piece out and said something like, “right, let’s restart and do it without.” It appeared to be a classic case of The Show Must Go On. As the orchestra performed Super 8, the screen was showing us vintage family super 8 films once again of a child playing with friends. He used Kenner Star Wars figures for stop motion shorts, kids riding bicycles recreating E.T. and wore a fedora & whip pretending to be Indiana Jones.
This brought the audience to its feet for the first, but not last, time. Off he went, then returned moments later asking, “one more?”. I had forgotten how much I liked Speed Racer as it was shown and performed. The audience were on their feet again as all the special guests came out on stage one last time and Michael was given a bottle of champagne and an event poster as a birthday card signed by them all. Mr. Giacchino then treated us to a few samples of his next Pixar project to be released in cinemas, Coco, which sounded big, loud and energetic. To finish the evening off he went back to where his relationship with J.J. began, Alias.
It was an evening filled with nostalgia. It was also an inspirational reminder that if you pursue your dreams you can make them reality. Watch a video from the event right here.
A superb evening with unforgettable moments, surprises and amazing music; who could ask for anything more!