REPORT ON THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “THE LORD OF THE RINGS SYMPHONY”, COMPOSED AND CONDUCTED BY HOWARD SHORE – Saturday, November 29, 2003
It is currently 11pm on Saturday night, and I am sitting at my computer at work, having come in to write about the event that I have just experienced.
And hopefully make a lot of people that I don’t know jealous.
Over the past couple of years, I have heard about various live concert performances of Howard Shore’s music for the Lord Of The Rings films, and I’ve always been jealous of those who have been to those concerts. But I can now say that I have been to the best concert – short of a live performance of the complete score synchronised to the movie. The world premiere of the LOTR Symphony, six movements for orchestra and chorus, created from the twelve hours of music composed for the three LOTR films, performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO). While I understand some of the movements have been performed previously, this was the first performance of the complete piece.
And it was great.
I won’t say much about the music, because we’ve all heard the scores for the first two films, and we will all be very familiar with the third film score very soon. I’ll just try to write about my thoughts and experience.
Peter Jackson was there, looking terribly casual (as you would expect) and completely out of place. As he tried to casually walk in, people saw him, and started clapping. This rapidly became a well-deserved standing ovation. I was, however, a little embarrassed when the people around me then spent a considerable amount of time turned around, just watching him. My gosh, people, give the man a bit of privacy. If I was PJ, I probably would have felt a bit uncomfortable.
Howard Shore walked out, huge applause. He gave a short speech that was interrupted every time he mentioned a recognisable name. When he talked about how much of the music was inspired by and written in Wellington, applause. When he acknowledged Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, applause. Richard Taylor, applause. When he mentioned how the NZSO did the first recording of the mines of Moria, applause. I was amazed he was able to make it to the end of the speech with all the interruption. But eventually the music started.
There really is something about hearing music performed live, by a full orchestra and two choirs, apparently 200 people in total, that you cannot experience listening to a CD or in a cinema or home theatre system. It really is unique. The wall of all enveloping sound that surrounds you at times is something to experience. I have pretty much thrashed the FOTR and TTT soundtracks since they were released, and so I thought I knew the music pretty well. But hearing these pieces performed live, you become very aware of the different textures, the subtleties that were hidden from you. The complexity and brilliance of the compositions cannot be overstated. Hugely enjoyable.
The first two movements covered FOTR, then came intermission. Cue more people just watching Peter Jackson. It was a bit creepy actually.
The next two movements covered TTT. Then came the bit I was really looking forward to. The final two movements were music from ROTK.
You see, I knew the music in the first four movements very well. But, other than the 30 second samples available on Soundtrack.Net, and Into The West. I haven’t heard the ROTK score yet. So this music was a real surprise. I had no idea where any of the music was going, and as a result, every note was a constant surprise. The other great thing about hearing this music in a concert? When I first heard the FOTR and TTT soundtracks, I had the track listing sitting in front of me, and I would learn that this track was called “The Black Rider”, or “Lothlorien”, and I would start imagining what was happening on screen. Without this, I could just enjoy the music as pure music, and it was great. There is some great music coming up, and I’m looking forward to it.
The NZSO performed brilliantly, as I expected. They really are a very good orchestra. The choirs were excellent. The soloists were very good, with one exception. My biggest disappointment was with Gollum’s Song. I really love this song, and one of the things I loved about it was the way Emiliana Torrini gave the song an almost alien feel to it. It was quite spectacular, and I adored it. Sadly, the performance tonight was much more as an ordinary song by an ordinary (but very good) singer. It didn’t quite have the twistedness of Gollum that I really felt Ms Torrini brought out. But credit where credit is due, when the same singer sang Into The West, I loved it. Great performance. So I have nothing against that singer. But hopefully, on any CD release, Emiliana Torrini will be used for Gollum’s Song.
Biggest surprise? Viggo Mortensen singing in Movement Six – I think it was a coronation song. No-one was expecting that, and so when the spotlight shone of him, you could hear the surprise and delight in the crowd.
The programme states that Howard Shore will also conduct the symphony in the USA, Europe, Australia and Canada. If you should happen to go to one of these concerts, be careful where you sit. Howard Shore arranged for the inclusion in the presentation of images from either Alan Lee or John Howe (the programme and all publicity state repeatedly Alan Lee, but an insert claims John Howe, so who knows). The images weren’t constantly showing, the screens spent quite a bit of time blank, but the images were frequent. The screens showing these images were behind the orchestra, so sitting where I was in the stalls, I sadly couldn’t really see them – well, I could just see the very top of the screens. So if you go to one of these concerts, try to get a seat on an upper level if possible, to see the images that Mr Shore intends to be part of the experience.
How long was it? I think each movement was approximately 15 minutes long, except for Movement 2, which would have been closer to 30 minutes. The whole thing was probably between 1.45 and 2 hours long.
What pieces were represented in the symphony? From the programme:
The Prophecy * Concerning Hobbits * The Shadow of the Past * A Short Cut To Mushrooms * The Old Forest * A Knife in the Dark
Many Meetings * The Ring Goes South * A Journey in the Dark * The Bridge of Khazad-dum * Lothlorien * Gandalf’s Lament * Farewell to Lorien * The Great River * The Breaking of the Fellowship
Foundations of Stone * The Taming of Smeagol * The Riders of Rohan * The Black Gate is Closed * Evenstar * The White Rider * Treebeard * The Forbidden Pool
The Hornburg * Forth Eorlingas * Isengard Unleashed * Gollum’s Song
Hope and Memory * The White Tree * The Steward of Gondor* Cirith Ungol * Anduril
The End of All Things * The Return of the King * The Grey Havens * Into the West
It will probably never happen, but I am really hoping for a DVD release of the Symphony. Imagine it. The music, in DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1, with concert footage of the orchestra performing, along with the video presentation of the paintings (by whichever artist), trying to really create the experience as Howard Shore intended. There will probably be a CD release of the Symphony, but to have a DVD that can retain the visual element, that would be wonderful.
To conclude, it was a great and thrilling evening, better than I could have hoped for. Wonderful. If you get a chance to see another performance of this, take it. You won’t regret it. There are a lot of things planned for Wellington as part of the celebration of the premiere, but I think ultimately tonight will be my favourite.