West of the Moon writes: I’m sharing my experience of meeting Howard Shore in Ottawa, Canada – and the thrill it was to meet him afterwards, and attend a Q&A session with him the next day.
I attended the LOTR symphony Thursday evening at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and came away from it in love with the book, film and music all over again. Interestingly, it was a completely different experience from seeing the symphony in Montreal in February (which I had also been lucky enough to attend). I was initially disappointed when I realized that Howard Shore wasn’t conducting, but Alexander Michelthwate, the guest conductor, brought a youthful energy and exuberance that really added to the evening’s performance, and gave a slightly different reading to the more sombre, mature version I’d seen earlier in the year. Hayley Westenra, the 17 year-old New Zealand singer, gave a heartfelt, poised performance that went far beyond her years, and she gave a rendition of Into the West that brought me to tears. The orchestra wholly focused and confident (which I know they should be) but there was a real sense of coming together and enthusiasm that infused their performances. We were sitting a mere five rows from the front, so we had a perfect view of the string section, and could really see the musicians working and reacting – and in many ways that made it more intimate. I missed not being able to see all members of the orchestra, and the interesting instruments they used, but our vantage point really made the evening special.
One thing that didn’t change was the awe-inspiring majesty of the music, and the thrill of hearing familiar pieces, and the key scenes they evoked. I could also really feel the emotional engagement on the part of the audience. My friend was enthralled from beginning to end, as were the people around us. As before, I found myself smiling, holding my breath, and in cases crying (and I wasn’t the only one!). Listening to the music in this manner really makes you appreciate his great accomplishment, and you get the feeling that Howard Shore UNDERSTANDS Tolkien and Middle-earth (more on this later). Howard came out at the end of the performance to great applause and cheering, and I was impressed with just how vocal the audience was in their appreciation – especially given the fact that Ottawans aren’t known for jumping up and down in excitement when it comes to theatre.
Afterwards we attended a reception for Arts Centre donors (my friend is one), and were able to speak with Howard and the conductor, and they were gracious and patient with everyone who wanted a picture, an autograph or a conversation. I told Howard that I’d seen him conduct in Montreal, and his face lit right up. He asked me if I knew it had been filmed (he was glowing at this point), and I said yes, and asked when we could expect to see it. He said (and was so excited he could barely get the words out) that part of it would be on the ROTK EE DVD, at which point we both quietly squeed, and he went on to say that the whole thing would be shown on Bravo as well. I told him that the books have always been dear to me, and that I loved the films, and how much of their success was (I thought) due to his music. He blushed and said, well, but they were great films to begin with!
We also had the opportunity to attend a lecture/Q&A session with him the following day, and he spent over two hours sharing his New Zealand, film, collaborative and composing experiences with us. He talked about his way of working – he watched a scene once, and then went away and tried to synthesize how he FELT watching it. The music he wrote came from that experience, not a formal attempt to match music to image. He feels successful music comes from the heart, and that you can only write well by understanding your own life experiences, and listening to your inner voice. He also spend a great deal of time researching and immersing himself in the various cultures and mythology that Tolkien used, so he could be true to that vision. In fact, much of his composition came from the book itself and not film scenes. He likened the whole experience to that of Frodo accepting the responsibility of the ring at the Council of Elrond (in fact, he said he felt, like Frodo, that he had no other option once PJ approached him!), and that PJ was his Gandalf, using his staff to light the way through Moria.
When he spoke about New Zealand he compared it to Canada, saying he felt at home immediately. He remarked on how unusual it was to work so closely with the screenwriters, director, crew, art department and actors (as opposed to coming in at the end of a film to write the music) – saying that he felt it was a true collaborative experience, and a real fellowship – and that that sense of closeness, support and understanding came through in the music. He talked about an instance where Viggo discussed Aragorn’s character with him as he was composing, and how sort of thing happened all the time. He was asked which of his themes were closest to his heart, and he replied that it was Sam and Frodo’s relationship that really resonated for him, and was the soul of the story. He also spoke quite a bit about the maturation of the hobbits, and how their life-changing experiences were what he was trying to convey. He likened film composition to clarity of storytelling, and how it was closely bound with dialogue and visuals, and gave several examples of where music added details that weren’t expressed openly onscreen.
He was at all times patient and willing to answer the same questions, and at no time expressed any weariness with the audience. I can’t imagine following his schedule (even he has a hard time keeping track of where he needs to be on any given day). He said he sees his LOTR composition as a culmination of 40 years of writing, and said he knows he couldn’t have done it at a younger age. There are two things he’s looking forward to – the opera he’s working on (based on The Fly), and going to Oxford in the fall. He’s thrilled at the thought of lecturing where Tolkien lived and worked, and hanging out in the same pub (thus revealing the fact that he, like us, is a fan in every way). He was very generous in sharing the creative experience with us, and we came away from the session bigger fans than we’d been before (which I didn’t think was possible!). It really struck home that this was a HUGE experience for him, and that his natural love of Tolkien, combined with the friendships he formed with the cast and crew, were integral to the music he wrote for the film. It was a great privilege to be able to hear the symphony, and his thoughts on the work, and really gave me a new appreciation for the whole creative process. And you know, much like everyone PJ chose, he’s just a genuinely nice man, and seems to truly love what he does.
I was thrilled to be able to attend the Friday performance of the LOTR Symphony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. I only found out about the concert two and a half weeks ago and, worse, I learned that tickets had been on sale since April! I feared at this point I would have lost out on all the good seats, but this was a once in a lifetime performance I couldnt miss. As it turned out, I couldnt have been more pleased with the seat I bought. In the first row of the Mezzanine level, I had an unobstructed view of the entire stage, about fifteen feet above the seating below. From this viewpoint I could see each member of the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO), the full chorus, and the projected production artwork of Alan Lee and John Howe. This artwork was an effective accompaniment to the music, but never distracting. In fact, many times I forgot the imagery was there, so enthralled I was by the performance of the music.
Ah yes, the music. Howard Shores tremendous score sounded magnificent and evoked all of the emotion and imagery of the LOTR trilogy, prompting chills and teary eyes where appropriate. I was pleased that all of my favorite cuts from the CDs were present at the concert, like A Knife in the Dark, The Bridge of Khazad-dum, and the percussive Uruk-hai theme from FOTR; Evenstar, The White Rider, The Hornburg and Forth Eorlingas from TTT; and The White Tree, Anduril and The Grey Havens from ROTK.
Conductor Alexander Mickelthwaite, making his NACO debut with the Ottawa performances on Thursday and Friday, clearly had the trust of the orchestra members, effusing his energetic style on the proceedings. Each film had two movements of music devoted to them, with FOTR serving the first half of the show, and TTT and ROTK wrapping things up. The approximately 2-hour, 20-minute performance seemed over too soon, but the capacity crowd showed their thunderous appreciation with a lengthy standing ovation that pulled Mickelthwaite out from behind the stage three times.
And I must mention featured vocalist Hayley Westenra, the 17-year-old from New Zealand who made her Canadian and LOTR debut here at the NAC with these Ottawa performances. Her renditions of Gollums Song and Into the West were riveting, showcasing her angelic, crystalline voice. And her accompaniment on cues such as Evenstar, Isengard Unleashed and The End of All Things made those pieces even more satisfying.
This was definitely an event Im glad I experienced, and I urge everyone to try to attend the LOTR Symphony if it comes to a city near you. You wont regret it.