Howard Shore Symphony in Moscow

Lord of the Rings Symphony – A Long-Expected Party
A report from the concert in Moscow, 17th November 2004

By Alina Tsyganova
Photos: Alina Tsyganova, Yulia Zakharova
With quotes from forum members of
English translation by Peter “TheHutt” Klassen

Original article in Russian

“When the concert finished yesterday, I could hardly talk for half an hour” (Aliks)

“My overall impression of this event as a whole was great. Yet another piece of wonder, which I haven’t witnessed for quite a while” (Amor)

The journey has come to an end. The “Symphony” reached Moscow and turned the State Kremlin Palace into a place full of music magic for two days. Maestro Howard Shore brought us back into the world of Middle-Earth, which has become so homely during the last three years.

I think many will agree when I say that the music from the LotR movies plays one of the main roles in creating the books’ atmosphere. The chanting of flute gets us to the peaceful and careless Shire; the music theme of Rohan is enchanting; and elvish singing creates images of magical Lothlórien in the viewer’s imagination. The whole symphony lasts for two hours; and all this time the audience is under the spell of Howard Shore. He commands over the emotions, and just by the means of music he lets the audience squeeze tightly in their chairs, relax, or wipe the tears away. The drums sound heavily, the violins cry out in distress, the audience is frozen with tension, waiting for the moment when the maestro has mercy with them – and just with a wave of the conductor’s stick Shore will bring piece and happiness back to the music.

“Speaking frankly, I even had a feeling that it happened to me not in real world, but in a dream, or in another life – a piece of which I had a chance to live” (Alexus)

The Symphony is divided into 6 movements – as many, as there are books in Tolkien’s novel. The first and the second books, “The Fellowship of the Ring”, have a good hour of the complete time – underlining the slow flowing of the story within. The easy theme “Concerning Hobbits” is replaced by the grim and foreboding “Shadow of the Past”. Themes follow one after another, and lead the spectator along the story.

After the entr’acte, there are the two other parts – “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King”. If the first movements contain the story introduction, then the others contain the building-up and the resolution. They last another hour and show the dynamic character of the storyline. Rohan, Fangorn, Helm’s Deep, the Paths of the Dead, Mordor, Pelennor, the Crack of Doom, and finally, the Grey Havens – which are the final chord of the Symphony. The concert ends with the Oscar-awarded song “Into the West”, sung by Sissel.

“The music is beautiful. The visuals are magic. And the impressions are indescribable. All these melodies – and each one is touching a certain string of the human soul. Shore did a great job writing it just like this.” (Oduvanchik)

The music was accompanied by some kind of a slide show, composed from paintings of famous Tolkien illustrators – Alan Lee and John Howe. Sketches and drafts correspond wonderfully with the Symphony compositions, leaving the audience enough room to use own imagination.

“I think it was just the choir of Khazad-Dûm that was rather not all too good. But our [Russian] singers just cannot match with the exotic Maori choir. Also, the acoustics were horrible. But there is nothing you can do – the Kremlin Palace is just like that.” (Rika)

“The Symphony was amazing, no matter, if the singers had Russian accents, or not” (Devlin)

On the press conference the Monday before, Howard Shore pointed out that in each country vocalists and musicians bring in their own character. It was also true for the Moscow Symphony concerts. The interpretation sounded somewhat different from what we are used to hear on the soundtrack CDs. Of course, there is a great difference between a live performance and a studio recording. There is no way to re-record, fix or add anything artificial during an onstage performance. Also, the acoustics of the rather uncomfortable Kremlin Palace does not allow the audience to hear everything just like at home with headphones. Also, Russian musicians added somewhat of academic profoundness to the Symphony. Whether it is good or bad – is for the audience to decide. In my opinion, the main advantage of such a concert is achieved by the honesty of the performance, and not by fancy solos.

In any case, the Russian musicians and vocalists succeeded to deliver the complicated program very well. Of course you can nitpick on flaws which of cause took place. But better leave it to the music critics. The impression, which remained, was very positive.

“Arranged in a half-circle there were different percussions – kettle drums, tam-tams, cymbals, a gong… when the dull beats sounded from different directions, you got the shivers.” (Oduvanchik)

“One word of advice – forget about the sound of the original discs for a while – because the performance of Sissel is completely different. Not bad – just DIFFERENT.” (Oness2)

Sissel is amazing. Such a clean, bright, flying, silver voice fits perfectly into the world of Middle-Earth. From the first syllables it goes through the bone, and the final song “Into the West” made many cry. Great was Howard Shore himself, who conducted the orchestra. He surrendered himself to the music completely, and it seemed to whirl around his hands. Everything he did on stage was with passion. And, obedient to his conducting stick, the music was flowing freely, supported by the choir – and getting us inside the screen, where paintings of Howe and Lee slowly passed by.

“The slow change of the sketchy images dug into my brain. At one moment I looked into the yellow frame like in a window to another world. Like a Palantir. Read it again and watch it again!” (Fidel)

To point out the negative aspects – the audience of the Kremlin Palace was not nearly able to fill it completely. It might result from rather expensive ticket prices. Or maybe it had to do with the specific type of audience this Symphony is targeted at – the movie fans. Or maybe both. Surely, some more popular concert might have sold out completely. I think, however, the main thing is not the quantity, but the quality. And those who came to hear the Symphony were not disappointed. Undoubtedly, the concert was a success.

In conclusion – I would like to thank Howard Shore for this magic tale he gave all of us. And to sympathize with the people who didn’t hear it.