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Pittsburgh LOTR Concert Reviews

July 30, 2004 at 10:40 am by xoanon  - 

FredO writes:

I attended last night’s concert in Pittsburgh of the Lord Of The Rings Symphony. I wanted to write and tell you what a triumphant performance The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) staged. I had been granted permission to attend the two rehearsals on Tuesday so I had a frame of reference for the concert last night. I should also mention that I was interviewed for the Tribune Review newspaper’s article, which you linked to, called “Tolkien On Tour.” I will describe the concert itself first and follow that with some reporting about the pre-concert Q&A and the post-concert reception.

I was stunned on Tuesday when I heard the orchestra perform with Howard Shore for the first time. I know that this work can be demanding and especially so on percussionists. As a drummer I focus on those elements when I listen to live performances. They were clearly more than ready for the challenges of the score. I was surprised at how quickly they had interpreted the energy of the stronger pieces such as the moments in Moria. I saw Howard stop the orchestra just a couple of times to correct some stylistic issues with the percussionists and that was it for the most part.

As to last night’s first performance it seemed to me that the orchestra had really internalized the score. They were dead-on from beginning to end. The subtleties of the ending themes were matched by the strength of the majestic moments such as Isengard Unleashed. The most breathtaking moments were not only evocative but heart-wrenching. I was in tears a good bit of the time but I nearly doubled over when I heard the orchestra play The Great River culminating with Boromir’s death. All in all the PSO was incredible and they handled this score with command and power. What a ride!

>From my box, my wife and I sat in the first two seats of the Grand Box Right (right above the stage). I could see Howard’s expression and his subtle hand movements. What I enjoyed watching was how he drew out each of the orchestra’s sections. His style is more demonstrative than I had been able to see when I saw him conduct the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. He has a way of pulling his left hand close to his left clavicle, and sometimes his throat, as he expresses trills. I saw him smile a couple of times at particular soloists. It was a knowing smile and, in one case, I knew why he was smiling. At Tuesday’s rehearsal he had spent some extra time with the acoustic guitar player in explaining the dynamics of Into The West. I saw them spend a little extra time after the main rehearsal ended as well. I could certainly hear the difference in last night’s performance. The quietness and subtly were all there and it was clear that Howard got what he wanted and communicated that back to the guitar player with that knowing smile.

I can also say that, from my vantage point, I could see several members of the orchestra sneaking a peak at the video screen. Watching the musicians is a treat but to see them act a bit like fans during the performance made me smile.

I would also like to say something about the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh and the Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh. They were both wonderful. I know two women in the choir. One is Sally our Line Party president and the other is Bonnie who has submitted a journal of her experiences during rehearsals to TORN. They confided to me, at rehearsal on Tuesday, that the choir was struggling with Lothlorien. Not so last night. The nailed it! The choir soloists were terrific. An interesting note of change from the sound track was the use of a bass voice for Aragorn’s coronation song. There was a moment or two where it was difficult to hear some of the bass voice parts, such as the Moria sequence, but overall the amplification of the choir was done very well. I know this has been an issue in other cities and it continues to be a struggle but I think they managed to get a good balance with it last night.

As for Sissel, the soloist traveling with Howard, what can I say. She was fantastic! Her phrasing, her emotive dynamics are all rich and moving. I fully admit to not liking Gollum’s Song on the sound track. Of all the music for the sound track it’s the only one that I never much cared for. When I heard Sissel perform it in Columbus I had a complete reversal of attitude. I had been dreading it but instead wound up loving it and falling to tears. The same thing happened last night. She has a fantastic stage presence, owing some of it to her Elf-like appearance (that’s a Tolkien Elf not your Keebler elf) and her statuesque physique. She handles Into The West with a grace that turns it into a lullaby. Frankly I can’t get enough of her.

As for the social moments of the evenging there were many for me. I had the great fortune of sitting with some Ringers from the area. They were sisters. Barb, who lives near Pittsburgh, and Suzie who came in from Erie, PA. They will be coming again tomorrow night. Between the 3 of us we were sobbing so much that I started to get concerned about how loud we might be! My wife commented to me later that she wasn’t too distracted by the 3 of us. But what a joy it is to meet other Ringer fans.

I also met David Koran of Soundtrack.net. He was in our box with a press pass, though he had to pay his way in like everyone else. We talked about the coverage Howard is getting and how this is opening a lot people up to the enjoyment of film music.

The crowd last night was a good mix of people of all ages. It was great to see so many young people. I hope they become symphonic music fans through the appeal of Howard Shore’s wonderful symphony.

There was a Q&A beforehand and they ran out of time long before they ran out of questions. Howard was casual and relaxed as he sat on stage. I got to ask him how the PSO compared with other symphonies and he was gracious in his reply while not actually offering a direct comparison. I also got to invite him to the Middle Earth dinner I helped organize for Saturday afternoon. Stephanie Simmons, a friend of mine, had put together a menu from her Middle Earth Cookbook and her daughter had suggested that the dinner be done as a fund-raiser for the PSO.

The post-concert event was a great time. I had met Howard at an autograph signing in Columbus and I was looking forward to thanking him for coming to Pittsburgh. When Howard appeared he was again showered with applause and expressions of gratitude. He stood at the top of the stairs at the entrance and took more questions before finally consenting to enter the reception area where, of course, he was mobbed for autographs. I even saw a local TV personality get in line with her entourage. I guess celebrities can be fans as well. 😉

I was afforded the opportunity or bringing my video camera and I recorded Howard’s entrance and one other special moment. Sissel was busy signing autographs at the rear end of the bar. When I saw a lull in the line I went over and asked if I could videotape a moment speaking with her. She was kind and agreed and immediately introduced me to the video technician who is handling the video screens. Once I handed him the camera I started to tell Sissel how much I enjoy her singing. I then explained my feelings about Gollum’s Song and how her rendition had changed my opinion so dramatically. She was very nice in accepting my praise so I went another step and mentioned that I was going to be at all 3 performances and that I was looking forward to hearing her again and again. She said to me “then I guess I have the pressure of having to perform this as well each night.” So it was then that I revealed that I would be sitting front row and center, right at her feet, for Friday night’s show. I actually saw her blush with embarrassment. What a fun and exciting little interchange this was for me and it was all captured on video.

I then got to meet Howard again. I thanked him for coming and I asked if he’d sign my program. I explained that I was going to be there all 3 nights and wanted to collect one from each night with his autograph. This will go nicely with the copies of each of the sound tracks that he graciously signed for me in Columbus. I got a chance to explain about Saturday night’s dinner and he said he might actually make an appearance. I also started to tell him that I had been interviewed for the local newspaper article that day when his eyes brightened. He’d read the article! He mentioned how nice he thought the article was and then Carl Mancuso, the manager of Heinz Hall, leaned in and said “Fred is the person who wrote us the letter that caused us to book the symphony.” Howard was in the middle of signing my program and he looked up at me and kindly thanked me and then turned back to my program and added “Thank You” above his signature! Now that’s an extra special Ringer moment.

I will be taking a copy of the article that was in yesterday’s paper with me tonight. Howard offered to sign a copy. It’s been an incredible week for me and I’m having the most “excellentest” of times.

—–

Amanda

Wonderful. Brilliant. Magical. Absolutely fantastic. There are simply not enough words of praise to describe the amazing feeling one has after going to a great concert and hearing awesome music. And after seeing/hearing the Lord of the Rings Symphony live last night at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I find myself tongue-tied as such – maybe even more so than usual.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to attend a concert as I was yesterday afternoon as I was getting ready to leave. It was real; it was happening – I was actually going to take part in something big and LotR-related. Howard Shore was going to be in the same concert hall, conducting the same music that I’ve been listening to and falling in love with since day one, and I was going to be there.

We (my friends Kasey and Joe, and myself) left early, so as to take advantage of the 6:30 Q&A session with Mr. Shore that was to be held an hour before the concert started. We arrived just before the lecture was to begin, bought some posters (yeah.. $15 is a big steep for a shiny piece of paper but hey, it’s not gonna happen again anytime soon!), and then were told we could sit anywhere we liked for the interview session. This was good news, as our purchased seats were waaaay up in the back of the hall.

We filed in a few rows from the front, and within minutes Howard Shore stepped out onto the stage to a tumult of applause (despite the small audience), dressed casually and looking thoroughly relaxed. He received our welcome graciously, and after a quick introduction, began taking questions. He was asked everything from the process of selecting solo artists to the instrumental choices he made to what the last CD he bought was. The mood was very friendly and relaxed, and it was all over far too soon (with many a question left unanswered).

At 7:00, we made our way up to our seats, positively glowing with anticipation. When Howard Shore stepped back onto the stage half an hour later, Kasey and I were already willing to offer him a standing ovation; we were so excited. We’d scoped out the program, and couldn’t wait to see how the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Mendelssohn Choir, and the Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh
would perform. We were not disappointed.

The first two movements (FotR) were simply breathtaking. I had goosebumps a good portion of the time, and was tugged emotionally from laughter to tears and back again throughout. The PSO was simply amazing! Then came a quick intermission, followed by the rest of the movements. The remaining half of the concert was just as amazing as the first, and just as emotionally provoking. The music from tTT was wonderful (I only wish there had been more of the Rohan theme played!), and the soloist, Sissel, was brilliant; such a gorgeous and captivating voice! Whether she was covering Ben del Maestro, or Emiliana Torrini, she nailed every note she sang. The (short) RotK movements could not have been better. The selection of songs to play was absolutely perfect, and I found myself wanting it to go on forever.

I must also commend the two choirs – they could not have performed any better! Each song they were featured in was absolutely lovely, each language seemingly mastered, every syllable together, and even the smallest hum was heard throughout the Hall. The soloists were also great, capturing beautifully the piece they each sang (‘In Dreams’ was especially amazing). Sissel added to this, of course, but the choirs themselves were marvelous!

The conceptional art projected onto the screen was wonderful, as well. It not only was something more to look at (when I could take my eyes off Mr. Shore’s expressive conducting and the goings-on of the musicians, that is), but also helped to tell the story. I imagine it would have been very helpful for those attending who didn’t know the music like the back of their hand to tell what part of the movie the piece they were hearing coincided with. The lighting of the hall was also neat – red, yellow, green and blue lighting was tweaked constantly to match the mood of each song. Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog bathed the Orchestra in red and yellow, like flame, while during our visit to Lothlorien, the stage took on a ethereal green hue.

After the concert, the audience offered an immediate standing ovation that lasted well over five minutes. I myself would have been content to carry on forever… But soon we made our way slowly out of the Hall, in absolute awe of the concert we’d just heard. It was beyond elation. I wanted nothing more than to shake Howard Shore’s hand and thank him profusely. This, however, didn’t happen. Oh well – one can’t have everything!

While we made our way through the thinning crowd toward the lobby, we found ourselves followed by a man in a white shirt and black pants – clearly a musician. He was inquiring to one of the ushers where he could get a program, and we decided to first congratulate him on the performance, and then offer him one of our programs. He took it once he realized it was probably the only way he was going to get one, and thanked us. He introduced himself to Joe, and his name was either Andre or Adrian.. I didn’t catch it clearly enough! But I then asked him what he’d played, and he said the pan flute, along with some other things. The pan flute in itself was very cool, and I told him so. We were about to turn to go when a woman accompanying him suggested he show us some of his instruments. He pulled out a little wooden pan flute, handed it to me, and told me to try it! A strange command, to be sure, but I obliged – I played the ‘hobbit flute’! True, it was only one note, but it was still quite cool. So, thanks to you, if you’re reading this – you made my night!

After that, we stopped by to have Sissel sign our programs, and tell her how beautiful her voice was, and how we absolutely loved all her solos. She was very kind, graciously accepting all our praise, and taking plenty of time to chat with the other Ringers around, personalize her autographs, and even take some pictures.

It was a lovely end to an amazing evening, and I’m ready to go again. This is definitely an event that I will not soon forget. So thanks to anyone and everyone who helped bring Howard Shore to Pittsburgh and make the night magical!

(A picture is attached from the Q&A session – it was technically an ‘illegal’ picture, but I didn’t know that when I took it!)

—–

FredO’s Second Night Concert Review

I attended last night’s second performance of the LOTR Symphony here in Pittsburgh and wanted to share some of my observations and stories with TORN readers.

My seats for the concert last night were in the front row center. This is not an ideal place to view the entire orchestra but it affords an intimacy you cannot possibly get anywhere else in the concert hall. I found that the sound of the orchestra is skewed a bit there owing to the proximity to the strings. Not that you can’t hear everything else it’s just that the strings become a focus of attention.

The PSO was once again magnificent. The power they have to move from the soft passages to the strong ones is amazing. Being able to watch the string section handle all these dynamics from such a close vantage point was simply a grand treat. Once again the percussion section was prominent and masterful. Though I could not see them from where I sat I certainly could hear, and feel, them at work. I know that this piece requires a great amount of percussion work and I think the PSO percussionists have been more than adequate to the challenge. Consider that they have to watch their volume because the choir needs to be heard in conjunction with the entire orchestra through passages such as The Destruction Of The Ring and you’ll get a sense for how hard a balancing act it can be to maintain the force of a piece like that without overwhelming the vocalists.
As for the choirs, they were again wonderful and strong. Dr. Robert Page, who conducts the choir, is legendary for his work and has had a stellar career. I think he prepared them very well for this challenge.

Because I was watching the string section last night so much I want to say something about getting to see how they handle themselves on stage. First of all I was surprised to see that some of them do look at the audience. I thought this was unusual but I did manage to catch the eye of a couple of violin players from time to time. As I said before, the seats I had afforded a wonderful intimacy. I was also able to watch their faces and see the different looks and expressions they make. None of them seemed to be working hard, if you know what I mean. Some of them had stern countenances which belied the subtlety of what they were doing. Some were very relaxed and simply playing effortlessly. I love being able to sit so close that the right string section and the left string section occasionally caused a stereo effect due to the differences in when they were playing. It was all just a feast for ears and eyes.

Howard Shore was again something to behold. From where I sat I had no view of his face or the front of him but I did have a view of how hard he works. On Thursday night I was able to watch his face, his arms and his hands. Last night I was able to watch his body and there was a story to be seen. Howard throws himself into his work. He was on the balls of his feet many times to get his points across. This is quite a workout and I was really impressed, again, at how well he got the musicians to follow him. He is a quiet, reserved man when you meet him in person. All his passion, all his artistry flow from him when he conducts the symphony. I felt a great honor to be so close as to see this great composer take the PSO through this epic work. It was stunning to watch.

When Sissel entered the stage after the intermission I was conscious of our little chat from Thursday night. I didn’t expect she’d acknowledge me sitting there but much to my chagrin she had a good bit to say about this at the post concert event (more on this later). As much as I have enjoyed her singing I was not prepared for how enchanting she is to watch when you sit so close. I could see all the expressions on her face, and watch her dramatic hand gestures, very clearly. She has a very patient, very paced style and seeing her handle the aria solos as well as the songs was very moving. I was sobbing, again, during Gollum’s Song and I was knocked over when she sang the aria, forgive me I’m unsure of the name of the piece, when Gandalf rides out to save Faramir and his retreating men as they ride to Minas Tirith. It was just beautiful.
I was also able to observe how Sissel stays involved during the moments when she is not singing. I could see her gently tapping her heel along with the orchestra during some of the really powerful moments like Isengard Unleashed. It was, again, one of those little things you really can’t see anywhere else in the auditorium. In a chat with her at the post-concert event she revealed to me that she had only 2 rehearsals before performing the Columbus show. She had a copy of the Wellington concert and spent a great deal of time listening to it and working on it to prepare. Given how well she did in Columbus I was very impressed.

The night was again triumphant. There were 3 curtain calls, again, and the crowd roared its approval. I know that Howard was sweating from the activity but I think I actually saw tears of gratitude on his face as he took his bows. It brought tears to my eyes to see him so moved. Again, I don’t think you could see this from anywhere else in the hall and it was a very, very special moment. My wife and I brought flowers and I laid them on the stage for him and Sissel. They both smiled and I heard the crowd roar again as they picked them up and thank us. What a magical end to the evening’s performance!

I do have something to report from the Q&A last night. First of all I got to see a whole bunch of Ringers down front before the Q&A started. It was great to stand there and talk about the night before and how much we were all anticipating a wonderful evening.
Howard took a lot of the same kinds of questions but one question stuck out:
“When do you start working on the extended, extended editions?” This, of course, drew a lot of laughs from all of us and from Howard. But his answer was most surprising. He proceeded to make light of the fact that P.J. had told him to start thinking about the 25th anniversary version (again more laughs). He did speak to the upcoming CD release of all the LOTR movie music. It was then that he said something most interesting. He said that he and the scriptwriters all felt that the extended editions are “THE” film. It’s the fuller expression of Tolkien’s work. Wow! I’ve heard P.J. defend the theatrical releases as the “THE” film owing to his work in editing them for pacing and such but I know I, and a lot of Ringers, really believe the extended editions are much better – much fuller. It was great to hear Howard comment about his talks with P.J. and company about this and express what I know a lot of us feel.

The post concert event was again great. This night was special for me personally as I was there with close friends and family. They were all having a terrific time which really added to my enjoyment of the night. Howard was again phenomenally gracious as he sat down and signed autographs for every last one of us. He posed for pictures and answered questions and was just kind beyond words.

I spent time talking with Sissel and the staff of Heinz Hall. When I approached her Sissel looked at me and said “I saw you in the front row but I wasn’t going to look at you. I even arranged my music stand so that I couldn’t see you.” I laughed and asked her what she had been afraid of. She told me that she knew if she saw me crying it would have upset her concentration. Again, I was able to film this little interchange as I had the night before. She thanked me for the flowers and signed a copy of her CD.

Later on I was speaking with Robbie, Howard’s assistant, and he told me that he and Shelly, the Assistant Artistic Administrator for Heinz Hall, had taken Sissel out to a Karaoke bar. She wound up singing “Dancing Queen.!” Boy am I sorry I missed that.
Speaking of Shelly, she is the person who wrote me back last September thanking me for bringing the LOTR Concert to their attention. I had not kept a copy of the letter I sent her because, honestly, I never, ever expected to hear back from them. To my wonderful surprise Shelly had kept it and photocopied it for me and gave it to me last night. That was a very nice gesture on her part. I cannot say enough good things about the staff of Heinz Hall and how well they have treated me and how hard they have worked in making this such a successful event.

I finally got sit with Howard towards the end of the evening. What stunned me is that when he saw me coming he said “Thank you for the flowers Fred.” It’s awfully nice to be recognized by someone you revere so much. Howard graciously autographed my program and a copy of the article I was interviewed for in the paper from Thursday. I had printed a copy of the review I had written up that appeared on TORN yesterday to show him and he said he’d already seen it. It turns out that Howard checks TORN regularly. Something tells me this is not news to the staff of TORN but I thought it was a plumb bit of information to pass along to all of you.
I was also able to show him the copy of the letter I’d written to the PSO that Shelly had just given me. He took a moment to read it over and thanked me once again for my involvement. Again, a gracious moment from a truly kind person. It was very special indeed.

One more concert tonight. We are having a special dinner from 4-6 before the show and Robbie said that Howard would be able to drop by for a few minutes towards the end. I’m sure tonight will be another magical evening.

Posted in Old Special Reports on July 30, 2004 by

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