The wait is on. Game of Thrones diehards must wait until July 16 for the seventh season of HBO's hit fantasy series to return. And since it doesn't seem like George R. R. Martin is going to be finishing a new Song of Ice and Fire book anytime soon, fans must turn to other outlets to get their GoT fix. Enter the Game of Thrones Concert Experience. Led by series composer Ramin Djawadi (who also wrote the music for Westworld and Pacific Rim), the touring arena show brings the music of Westeros to the people with a grand stage show that features massive video screens, pyrotechnics, and more visual surprises. Djawadi conducts each performance, which feature a full orchestra, choir, and team of touring soloists.
The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience makes a stop at KeyArena this Friday, March 31. It might not be as action-packed as battles between the Starks and Lannisters or the fiery destruction of Khaleesi's dragons, but it will certainly help hold people over until July.
In anticipation of Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience, we chatted with Djawadi about the show's reliance on family musical themes, being kept in the dark about plot points, and working with local musicians on each tour stop.
How did the idea of taking Game of Thrones’ music and turning it into a touring spectacle concert come about?
It started with just a tiny idea in the studio. I was with David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], the showrunners. During one of our music review sessions and they actually said, “You know what, Ramin, why don’t you do a concert?”
So it started with the idea of just doing one “regular” concert, and I kind of took it from there. I said this show is so epic and so different, so let’s do something that has never been done before. Let’s design a stage. Let’s push this further. So that’s how we came up with what it is now, and the whole process of that took almost over three years: just with getting all the ideas together, all the logistics, and building the stage.
We designed a special stage. We have orchestra and choir. We have soloists that travel with me. We have footage from the show. It’s this contemporary approach. It’s almost like a rock concert—we have pyro, fake snow, and things that just makes it immersive and really exciting for the audience. They feel like they’re in Westeros.
It’s been so fun. The shows we have played so far have been amazing.
Outside of the music, do you have a personal favorite moment in the show on the spectacle side of things?
There are many beautiful ones, it’s hard to choose. That’s one of the fun things about the show, the stage kind of molds through these different setups and it just changes so much. I feel like it never gets boring.
When the pyro happens, you can feel that energy from the audience. The pyro with the dragons, that’s been amazing.
There’s some other really idyllic, beautiful moments. There’s one for example when we play “Goodbye Brother,” the Stark theme, our solo violinist gets elevated and put under what looks like the Stark family’s weirwood tree, and it’s just a beautiful setting.
Were there any touchstones you looked toward when initially coming up with the musical style that would define Game of Thrones?
You know, not really. The main inspiration really came from George’s story and just sitting with David and Dan. They had very specific ideas and a vision of what they wanted the sound to be, and that really lead me to what the score is now. Many times, we want to understate the music, because there’s a lot of dialogue in the show. So it’s just sitting underneath and creating a mood.There were always big discussions with them saying we think this should be the sound for this character or for this overall tone. Let’s pick something else or different. They were very specific about thematic ideas for which houses or which characters we wanted to give themes, when, and how. And out of all those conversations, I created the different themes and picked different instruments for different locations to make sure it sounds different enough so that we understand that we’re in different parts of Westeros.
With Game of Thrones’ notorious death rate, do you ever get bummed out that you no longer get to use music for a specific character after they meet their untimely demise?
Definitely. I don’t even know the death is coming most of the time. Sometimes they’ll give me heads up, but most of the time I don’t know. So I just write for the moment. I guess one good thing is the show is based around families and most of the time we have themes for families. So like after Rob Stark gets killed during the Red Wedding, the Stark theme is still around because there are still Starks around. And you know Oberyn only made it through one season, but the Martell family is still around, so their theme is still around. That’s why it’s been good to choose themes in a way where it doesn’t matter that you can’t foresee anything that’ll happen.
It’s just a general benefit of having family themes instead of individual character leitmotifs.
So they don’t really clue you in about the plot and you actually have to deal with being surprised by what happens just like an audience member?
Definitely. Obviously I’m working on it so I do get to see it earlier, but it’s not much earlier. And I don’t get the scripts, so I have no idea what’s happening in season 7. I’m as excited as everybody else to see. I won’t even get to work on it until I finish the tour.
That’s cool that you still get to experience the shock of surprise moments.
Exactly. And I really like that. When I get the episodes and just sit by myself and watch it just like anyone else watching the show the night that it comes out. I don’t have any spoilers either. I just watch it and get as excited and freaked out by things that happen. I go, “Oh my god, I never saw this coming!”
How has the audience reaction at the initial Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience been? Does it have a different feel from a more traditional symphonic concert audience considering it’s probably a bunch of TV fans who might not typically seek out live classical music?
What I love—and what certainly encourages the musicians and myself and just makes it very enjoyable—is its more contemporary approach. It feels like a rock concert. The audience doesn’t feel the need to be perfectly quiet and listen. They shout things in from the show and when they see their favorite character on screen. They clap in the middle of the piece. They’re very vocal about it, and it becomes very interactive with the music and the audience and the show. That’s exactly what I was hoping would happen, that people would just enjoy themselves and have a good time. All of these shows we’ve done, the audience has been absolutely amazing. It’s been a blast.
Have there been any particularly surreal moments you’ve experienced as part of the larger Game of Thrones phenomena?
The overall success of the show is something I never even dreamed of. It’s just so wonderful to see that the audience is so into the show and so into the music. It makes me so happy. I’m so excited that we found the right tone for the show, and that there are people that pay attention to the themes and the music. And now they’re coming to the concerts. I never even thought, I never even dreamed that we would be able to do something like that.
Yeah, there aren’t a ton of composers who reach the level of pop culture saturation where Weird Al does a parody of your TV theme.
Yeah, it’s incredible. Like there’s a South Park thing, they used it for The Simpsons, and then there’s like cats meowing it on YouTube… like every time I think, “Okay, there’s not possibly a new version that can come out,” somebody comes up with something creative and new. I just love it. The way it goes around the world and how people love it, makes me very happy.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
One thing I’d like to point out is while there’s a band of eight soloists that are traveling with me, we’re actually working with local orchestras and choirs in each city. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed. And I’ve carved out my schedule, because I really wanted to be part of this concert myself and I really wanted to be there for all of them, conducting all of them. I love meeting the new orchestras in every city and working with them. They’ve been incredible. You know we don’t have a lot of rehearsals and they put on fantastic shows. So I’m looking forward to coming to Seattle and working with the musicians there.
Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience
Mar 31, KeyArena, $36–$96