LOTR Concert with Chris Lee in Amsterdam

Vincent writes: I live in The Hague and last week with some friends I attended ‘The Lord of the Rings in Concert’ in Amsterdam, with of course Christopher Lee starring as the narrator!

It was a great evening – both fun and moving. Here is a short summary:

When we arrived at the Concertgebouw we noticed quite a lot of people in costume – mostly Elven or generic medieval. I had just come back from the Worldcon in Boston that very morning so it felt like I hadn’t left! 😉

We were seated near the front-centre of the stalls, so the stage with the orchestra loomed over us. You can see that from the photos. The hall was very full, especially with all the costumes!

The concert started pretty much on time with the conductor Jules van Hessen arriving to applause and launching the orchestra (Het Nederlands Theater Orkest) straight into the march from the 1978 animated Lord of the Rings movie, composed by Leonard Rosenman. This was lively and great fun and a good warm-up.

Jules then addressed the audience (in Dutch) to introduce the evening and that we had to sing the next piece – the Mordor National Anthem! There was much laughter – but it got worse – we had to do it facing away from the orchestra, looking to the back of the hall (something about Mordor traditions?)! The orchestra then played the tune slowly and we had to sing on the second pass. To be fair it sort of sounded ok, but half the audience were either laughing or way out of tune, so the conductor could only thank us for effort. 🙂

At this point Jules introduced Christopher Lee, who came on stage from the left, up the stage steps. There was an instant standing ovation for him which lasted quite a while – he had to motion for us to sit, though he did have a little smile on his face. He then sat by the conductor, and after little bit of fiddling with the microphone and putting on his glasses he started reading ‘Malbeth the seer’s words’ accompanied by the orchestra and Caspar Reiff (who arranged some of the evening) on guitar. His deep baritone voice instantly filled the room and the atmosphere was electric. There was huge applause at the end. Next came ‘Treebeard’s song’ and he did actually sing it, with orchestra playing along! Again the baritone was used to great effect both singing and speaking as Treebeard. The effect was very striking and evocative (and without meaning any disrespect to John Rhys-Davies, I think Lee could also have been very good as Treebeard in the movies). At the end there was again strong applause. Lee thereafter introduced each new piece as well as narrating occasionally.

Next up was the Howard Shore symphonic suite from ‘The Two Towers’. It was nicely done – quite fast – and was basically a sort of greatest-hits of the score; the main themes and melodies only, rather than the full two-movement TTT which I had seen in Antwerp in April. This was followed by the Dutch mezzo-soprana José Scholte, singing from the balcony above us: she delivered the hauntingly beautiful ‘Elven hymn to Elbereth Gilthoniel’. Then onstage came Peter Hall, who is Caspar Reiff’s musical partner and mentor. They performed ‘Sam’s song in the orc-tower’ together; Peter playing whistle and singing and Caspar on guitar. Peter was very good, (though there was one shaky moment when he transitioned from singing back to whistle).

The orchestra then played an instrumental version of ‘May it Be’ followed by the Howard Shore Symphonic suite from ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. This was again fast and furious and a nice overview of that score. It ended slightly differently with José Scholte singing ‘In Dreams’ to close the first half of the concert.

Overall the first half was a great exposure to different Rings themes, both musical and vocal. The downside was it attempted to cover too much, I think, and there were a few places where it was clear that more rehearsal time, especially cues, would have been useful. Still it was great fun.

The second half, was entirely different, however!

The orchestra, conductor and Christopher Lee delivered the entire second half. This comprised a recitation of the full Ring Poem followed by Johan de Meij’s Symphony #1 ‘The Lord of the Rings’, with narration by Lee.

It was absolutely stunning – a perfect match of voice and orchestra, and clearly aided by Lee’s intimate knowledge of the books.

Lee began the Ring Poem slowly, ‘Three Rings for the Elven Kings…..’ with the orchestra, and then together they built up in volume. At ‘…Bind them’, Lee raised his voice very loud and the orchestra also jumped in volume – a lot of the audience jumped as well!

They moved straight into the Johan de Meij Symphony. This comprises five parts, which cover the highlights of FotR and the end of RotK. [I had heard the symphony live long before and it is a great favourite of mine. In fact I think I recommended it years ago on theonering.net discussion forum! It was written for a band to play, and won many awards, but an orchestral version was arranged a few years ago to much acclaim. Both versions are available on CD.] The orchestra played really well, and Christopher Lee narrated key story elements and short spoken passages from the book. I can’t remember them all, but they included the flight to the ford, Frodo speaking at the council of Elrond – ‘I will take the ring, though .. I do not know the way’, the bridge of Khazad-dûm, gollum speaking to the hobbits, the showdown in Mount Doom and of course the destruction of the ring, followed by the grey havens and a final word from Sam. It was absolutely great and the audience was rapt throughout. Now that I think back, there was a hilarious interjection from Lee: halfway through he narrated a passage that referred to Gandalf as the White wizard, and he quickly said ‘I thought that was my job!’ – it was such a surprise and the audience had hysterics – the conductor did well to keep everything on track!

At the end there was huge applause, though if the audience were like me they were all wrung-out by then! As a great final touch the earlier performers came back on for a final bow, accompanied by a short reprise of the Hobbits theme by de Meij, and then a man in white came on who I believe was Johan de Meij himself! He is in one of the photos shaking hands with Lee. A nice touch if it was him!

After much ovation, flowers and bows, the performers left and the concert was over. A great evening!