I have enjoyed offering fans the chance to see what it’s like to experience “The Lord of the Rings Symphony” from the point of view of a singer in the Mendelssohn Choir (read PART I & PART II). I had planned to talk about this past week’s rehearsals and performances in this final chapter. Last night, however, Dr. Page, the director of the choir, made it clear to me that he does not like details of the rehearsals being made public.
Honestly, it never occurred to me that this might be the case. I liken it to watching all the behind-the-scenes stuff on the extended DVD’s. It gives me a greater appreciation for the finished product when I see the hard work and care that went into it. Obviously, not everyone feels this way, and I will abide by Dr. Page’s wishes.
However, I do not wish to leave this story unfinished, so I’ll skip the rehearsals and talk about what it was like to experience these performances from the stage.
First of all, a bit more about the piece itself. Listeners will hear music other that what’s listed in the program.
The first movement lists “The Prophecy – Concerning Hobbits – The Shadow of the Past – A Short Cut to Mushrooms – The Old Forest – A Knife in the Dark.” It concludes with the music from “The Treason of Isengard” – the wizard fight.
The second movement lists “Many Meetings – The Ring Goes South [this includes some music from FOTR EE when Arwen and Aragorn look at each other as the Fellowship is leaving] – A Journey in the Dark – The Bridge of Khazad-dum – Lothlorien – Gandalf’s Lament – Farewell to Lorien [FOTR EE, Galadriel’s gifts] – The Great River [There is some music from Amon Hen in here next, including some from the score but not on the soundtrack album] – The Breaking of the Fellowship.”
The third movement lists “Foundations of Stone – The Taming of Smeagol – The Riders of Rohan – The Black Gate is Closed – Evenstar – The White Rider – Treebeard – The Forbidden Pool.” I didn’t notice anything additional in this movement.
The fourth movement lists “The Hornburg – Forth Eorlingas – Isengard Unleashed – Gollum’s Song.” Again, nothing additional to what was listed.
The fifth movement lists “Hope and Memory [Pretty much all of “Minas Tirith” is added here] – The White Tree – The Steward of Gondor – Cirith Ungol – Anduril.”
The sixth movement lists “The End of All Things [it actually begins with “The Fields of the Pelennor” – the whole thing, then plays part of “Hope Fails” before going into “The End of All Things.”] – The Return of the King – The Grey Havens – Into the West.”
The setup for these performances differs according to the venue, I’m sure, but for us, the choir was set up behind the orchestra. The screen was above our heads and just in front of the choir. Howard Shore was not extremely pleased with this set up, because the pictures are not supposed to be the focus, but it was the only way to do it at Heinz Hall. It was hard for me to not look up at the pictures when I had down time in the performance, but I glanced at them during the last rehearsal when I could.
Howard Shore’s conducting style was a pleasure to experience. He was very animated and expressive. For me, it really helped set the mood for whatever was happening musically. Offstage, he is quiet and reserved, but very gracious with his fans.
The sound of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was balanced very differently for me because the percussion section was directly in front of us, and the French horns were in front of them. The strings sounded very far away sometimes (they were), but it gave me an opportunity to hear things in a totally new way. The percussion section was a sight to behold. There were some interesting things used to get the right sounds for the Isengard and Treebeard music. My favorite percussion moments were the drums at the beginning of “The Fields of the Pelennor,” and an occasional deep bass drum, that softly punctuated some of the quieter moments.
One of my favorite instrumental moments was “The Forbidden Pool.” I loved the combination of instruments that creates the sound of water in that sequence. I also loved the music for the lighting of the beacons. The horns all sounded so majestic.
It’s hard to pick one section that I liked singing best. Actually, one of my favorites was a part I did not sing – the Moria part when the Fellowship see the city of Dwarrowdelf. I loved hearing the men’s voices swell at that climax. We moved from Khazad Dum to Lothlorien, which was a big change. I loved singing that part – very ethereal. I think my other favorites were pretty much everything in the fifth and sixth movements, especially “The Steward of Gondor” – a very haunting sound.
I got to talk a bit with Sissel after Wednesday’s rehearsal. She is a very gracious and beautiful lady. I enjoyed listening to her renditions of “Gollum’s Song” and “Into the West,” but where she really shined was on the high parts. “Evenstar” was beautiful, but my favorite was in “The Return of the King,” where Arwen and Aragorn are reunited. Everything gets quiet, and all you hear is her voice. It was stunning.
Howard Shore, if you’re reading this, thank you for your beautiful work on these movies and for putting together such a brilliant symphony. I’m looking forward to the release of the boxed set. I apologize for anything I’ve said in these posts that may have revealed more than you would have wished. I’m just an enthusiastic fan who is very grateful to have experienced this, and wished to share it with those who can’t.
I am also grateful to Dr. Page for allowing me to sing with the Mendelssohn Choir. And I wish to thank Fred-O, whose letter to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra prompted them to book these concerts. The final performance for this was on my birthday. To sing my favorite music on my birthday is the best present I could receive. I had to keep my composure and focus for these performances, but once I had finished last night, I began to cry. It was so wonderful and beautiful to participate in this, and I am sorry that it’s over. I will never forget it.