orchestra on stage
image: Irene Mercader

Settling the Score: a night with David Arnold and Michael Giacchino

Over the past few years, renowned composers David Arnold and Michael Giacchino have been sparring on Twitter, and that online battling has led to a big question – who would win in an actual battle? We descended on the Royal Albert Hall to answer that very question, as the composers presented some of their biggest and best scores in a musical battle that proved a magical night.

The evening was structured primarily in battles between a piece from each composer, each with some kind of link. So we began with scores inspired by the spy scores of John Barry (‘Cone in 007 Your Time is Up’ from The World is Not Enough versus the theme from The Incredibles 2). We then proceeded through kaiju movies, works with Benedict Cumberbatch, space movies, national celebrations and sci-fi epics. We also saw the UK premiere of a suite from Spider-Man: Far From Home and the global orchestral premiere of Arnold’s theme from Good Omens. In between each battle, we heard from one or both of the composers, as well as a number of surprise guests.

In case you were in any doubt about the tone of the evening, the site of two muscular images on stage, a composer’s head superimposed on each, would have set you right. The music was treated seriously, but nothing else was, and it made for a very enjoyable night. The composers appeared in costume, and we were also treated to guest appearances by Boris Johnson and Donald Trump (courtesy of actor Lewis MacLeod) which seemed perfect for the evening despite their general weirdness.

The music was treated seriously, but nothing else was 

We also met directors Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) and Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, who came with the revelation that Giacchino would be scoring his new Batman film), and saw rapturous audience applause for Neil Gaiman.

Music was provided by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, and every piece was simply beautifully-performed. My personal highlights include the Far From Home music and always tear-jerking ‘Married Life’ from Up (both my partner and I cried), and a phenomenal suite from Independence Day – perhaps the best sci-fi score ever composed, and I’ll die on that hill. Even pieces that I had no particular fondness for, such as Arnold’s ‘You Know My Name’ from Casino Royale, were rendered magical on this night – the infectious energy and the quality of the music shone through.

I don’t think it was a perfect evening, but any issues are very nit-picky. As a symphonic battle, the evening was all about the music, but there were certain points when I felt that a screen on stage would’ve been beneficial to the audience. Even just a still from the respective film or event would’ve been a useful anchor point, particularly as not every piece was introduced. There were some I didn’t know and, if I hadn’t bought a programme, I’d have been lost.

If I hadn’t bought a programme, I’d have been lost 

And it was also a bit disappointing that we saw so little of the two composers throughout the event, with them primarily appearing in a costume to make a joke in between battles. There was such a wealth of experience and story-telling on that stage, and we were treated to essentially none of it. The most personal aspects came at the end, as each composer performed a little themselves – Arnold played and sang ‘We Nearly Had It All’, a touching number from his stage musical Made in Dagenham, whilst Giacchino led the audience in a Star Wars sea shanty.

Despite clear favouritism from the crowd for Arnold, I thought that the night was right to end on a draw. Each composer’s work was so good and played so brilliantly by the orchestra, that it would be simply impossible to declare a winner. Unless, of course, you want to argue that the audience was the real winner, for getting to experience such musical talent and enjoy scores from films, TV shows and events that have touched all of our lives. Getting to see Arnold and Giacchino settle the score made for an absolutely magical, once-in-a-lifetime evening.


Settling the Score was at the Royal Albert Hall on 18 October.

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