One Concert to Rule Them All: A Review of the Lord of the Rings Symphony
September 21st is just an ordinary day to most people; but to legions of fans known as Ringers, this marked the eve of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins birthday. It also marked the premiere event in Hollywood for The Lord of the Rings Symphony: a six movement piece for soloists, mixed chorus, childrens chorus, and orchestra. The gala event took place at the worlds largest outdoor theatre: the Hollywood Bowl. John Mauceri, a man who collaborated with Howard Shore to transfer the award-winning movie score into concert format; conducted the evenings performance. Performing were the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Chapman University Choir, Los Angeles Childrens Chorus, and the Hollywood Bowl High School Honor Choir. Performing soloists included boy soprano Eugene Olea, vocalist Susan Egan, and soprano Carolyn Betty.
As the concert began, a welcoming speech from Howard Shore appeared on the video screens. When the message ended, the conductor took his place at the podium and began with The Prophecy, the opening music implemented during Fellowship of the Ring and the first in line with Movement One. While the music lingered throughout the sold-out crowd of 18,000, the video screens displayed drawings from conceptual artists Alan Lee and John Howe. Each drawing appropriately fit the pieces without distracting the audience too much from the music.
Movement Two marked the introduction of the soloists: only Olea and Egan performed for this movement. Egan, who played the original Belle on Broadway in Disneys Beauty and the Beast; sang the haunting Gandalfs Lament with superb Elven-diction. Olea sang during The Breaking of the Fellowship, marking the end of Movement Two.
After the intermission Movements Three and Four were performed; spanning the Two Towers segment of the trilogy with ease. Soprano Carolyn Betty now joined her comrades on stage. Her performance of the Evenstar rivals that of the original singer (Reneé Fleming). During Forth Eorlingas, both Betty and Olea sang together. Egan ended Movement Four with an eerie rendition of Gollums Song.
In contrast with the previous four movements, the Return of the King segment was short: Movement Five contained five songs while Movement Six contained only four. Betty sang during the End of All Things and The Return of the King. A baritone from one of the choirs sang a short solo during Return of the King, and his splendid performance embodied the true spirit of Aragorn. Movement Six concluded with Egan performing Into the West and the orchestra building to its finale with reverent power.
The concert as a whole was very enjoyable; but was it really one concert to rule them all? It was definitely not a perfect concert; in comparison with the film score, several of the songs seemed much slower than usual (whether this was a directing choice or if it had something to do with the acoustics in the theater I have not the slightest), Olea, while having a decent voice probably wouldnt have been my choice to pick as the boy soloist. You could see the nervousness of the situation through his eyes and the decision not to sing out. Although Egans voice was perfect for Gollums Song, it did only little to help Into the West; a song I believe only needed a better singer than Annie Lennox to do the job properly. Betty was perhaps one of the best soloists at the concert. Her voice gives proved her reputation as upcoming opera soloist. Her voice transcends a mystic quality essential to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Granted, there were a few notes she did not start on correctly.
The choir itself seemed to drag some of the pieces and in some cases, either missed the entrances, or due to a technical sound issue; it sounded as if the choir started too softly on pieces that begin with authority. Nevertheless the choirs sound was reminiscent of the films, if but sounding a bit underdeveloped.
What really made the concert for me was the brass and strings section. The brass is found heavily in the themes of man that are implemented throughout the movements. The swelling richness of the brass ringed throughout the concert and was a joy for my listening ears. The strings and especially the concertmaster knew how to play good Celtic style music when introducing the theme of the hobbits. In fact, the concertmaster took it upon himself to embellish some parts during The Return of the King.
Its amazing how nine hours of a movie-music masterpiece transformed to two and a half hours. As the program indicates, Together with Mauceri, Shore worked on the form and transitions from the longer film scores, transforming them into manageable instrumental movements: a series of tone poems free of the specific visual linkage with the films and adhering more to the traditions of the programmatic orchestra works of Strauss, Liszt, Smetana, and Sibelius. This is what makes the Lord of the Rings symphony an epic of a larger scale: anyone can be moved by its haunting themes and resolutions-even those who havent seen the movies.
Here are a few pics from the Bowlmoot 2, held yesterday at the Hollywood Bowl and Camrose park. There was a picnic from 3pm till 7pm at the park, and then we all wandered over to the Hollywood Bowl to hear the Howard Shore soundtrack music for the LOTR films. I’ll let someone else write the review of the whole day, picnic and concert, I just wanted to pass along a few pics.
The first pic shows the Eye of Sauron pinata we had, which was mighty clever. The White robed figure next to it is Saruman-ella, aka Kristi from Tolkien Forever. She seemed an appropriate figure to be controlling the ropes for the Great Eye.
The second pic is the rather dead and defeated Eye of Sauron.
The third pic is two dead people. Err, rather, it’s Haldir and Mini-Boromir, as played by Danielle and Veronica.
I see you don’t have a review of the Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl yet. Shall I tell you about it? My 45th birthday was yesterday, the 22nd. My husband surprised me with tickets to the LOTR Symphony on the 21st. He’s always been good about presents and he’s pretty understanding about my LOTR obsession (Aragorn standee at the foot of the bed, every shelf filled with action figures, every wall covered with posters, etc.) but he totally outdid himself this time! The Bowl is over 2 hours from our home, depending on traffic, but we still arrived in good time to get one of the highly coveted parking spots. They have 1800 parking spots for 18,000 seats. For those not familiar with the Bowl it is an open air theater. They allow you to bring picnic baskets before the show. It’s very relaxed. In the box next to us a family was celebrating their daughters’ 20th birthday and everyone around them sang to her. A lot of people dressed up. I saw many Return of the One Party T-shirts among the capes and wigs. There was a Gandalf the Grey who looked so good people stopped him for autographs afterward. When people in Hollywood do costumes they do them well! There was an Arwen sitting right near us in the red and black gown from ROTK. On the other side there was an Aragorn in the Gondorian battle armor. He was perfect, hair, beard, the right size; you had to look twice to make sure it wasn’t Viggo! Eventually those two were brought together and posed for pictures. There was a really great Legolas and a Gandalf the White, though it was a woman so the spell was broken. We spotted several celebrities. In fact, I literally bumped into Amy Ackerman from Angel! As is usual with LA audiences the place was only half full until nearly 8:00, but then they came streaming in. Having listened to the soundtracks hundreds of times I thought I knew what this music sounds like, but hearing it live in the open air with crickets in the background was a whole new emotional high. I was brought to tears several t imes throughout the performance. The high point for me was the fifth movement, starting with Hope and Memory which is the lighting of the beacons, then going into The White Tree and The Steward of Gondor which is Faramirs’ music. Absolutely breathtaking. It was conducted by John Mauceri who worked directly with Howard Shore to develop the Symphony, finding two hours of performance music within the 11+ hours of the score. He said that he was directly responsible for the Symphony being ready for it’s first performance at the World Premiere of ROTK in Wellington, which Howard Shore conducted, then he conducted the second performance the next night. He was very excited that on the 22nd he would be conducting in Hollywood while Howard conducted in London simultaneously in honor of The Birthdays. The soloists were wonderful but the Soprano, Carolyn Betty, was particularly spectacular. Afterward they received a good 10 minute standing ovation, something you don’t see often with LA audiences who have seen and heard everything and are very hard to please. My interest in LOTR has given my many wonderful memories with my family over the last few years. This was a night I will always treasure.