Ed writes: Hi, I was at the LOTR symphony in Bergen Saturday Sep 3 at the Festplassen (open-air park stage). I am in Norway for 3 weeks and decided to overlap my stay so I could see this concert. This is my fourth time seeing a LOTR symphony. The first was the very first performance by Howard Shore during the Wellington world premier of ROTK back in Dec 2003. Hard to beat that, honestly. And I saw it in Seattle where I live twice.
So I can say a few things overall: it was a good performance by the symphony, with solid vocals and Sissel soloing.
This was put on by Hydros, a huge natural resources company in Norway (think oil, gas, fertilizer, and thankfully alternative and future energy sources unrelated to fossil fuels). In one of a few videos they displayed on the large viewing screens dotting the park area, they made it clear they are investing a lot in the future sources not necessarily being from carbon fossil fuels, which I liked. Of course, well see if it pans out that way…
Anyhow, this was a daylong concert series of artists celebrating Hydros 100th anniversary as a company. There were some popular Norwegian bands preceding the symphony, more like a Lollapalooza, which suddenly morphed into an 80 to 100-seat orchestra and 40 to 50 vocalists. Oh, and Sissel guest soloed most of the boy soloist parts, the notable exception being the solo immediately after Gandalf falls in FOTR and they emerge on the Lothlorien side of Moria. The boy who did that hit it nicely despite being nervous I’m sure, as the crowd was very large for that park.
A note about the park attendance: it was crammed with people, and they set numerous rows of chairs up in the center for elderly and disabled people, which was a very welcome touch. Of course there’s always smart asses who rush in and take seats meant for those challenged people, even in Norway. But only a few thankfully. Everyone was cheerful and you get the sense that Scandinavian places like Bergen are in a sense a homecoming for Tolkiens’s work and Shore’s music. The crowd was respectful (again, there’s always some scattered talking but not bad. Everyone stood the entire concert except the afore-mentioned seats. Norwegians are in better shape, especially the middle aged and older people who probably hike every weekend for fun, since the area around Bergen is full of great day hikes and strolls. So they stood 2-3 hours just fine, and a lot of the elderly who could have taken seats just stood.
There were 6 movements, with each movie’s songs roughly split in half to give 6 pauses for applause and to let the orchestra and vocals rest a minute. So here are my musings on what I noticed, and I wont just repeat the set of songs since everyone knows them by now (and yes, they appeared to follow the set I had seen before without deviation – which I have some comments on at the end).
– Sissel was spot on in all her parts. And she looked really good 🙂 Despite being spot on however, she did print her style on parts like Into The West, which had vibrato in places that Annie Lennox doesn’t do that, and a few other minor things that throw you of only if you are looking for details like I was. But she hit all the notes unwaveringly, which as you all know is hard to do in a lot of those pieces.
– The boy soloist was a little nervous who wouldn’t be, but did fine in his parts like the post-Moria mourning.
– Sissel did Gollum’s Song with somewhat of an attempt at the breathiness of Ms. Torrini (sp?), but although it sounded fine, anyone who knows the sound and characteristic voice would recognize that she was going for that sound but couldnt quite get it.
– The version of the Beacons was awesome!! Finally an orchestra (that I have seen), which plays the damn thing at the right tempo! Everyone else slows it down so much it plods, imo. They played it at the same tempo as the movie, and the violins were ripping through the crescendo in keeping with the energy inherent in that piece.
– The vocals of the choir were overshadowed somewhat in a few places where both the instruments and voices are supposed to swell, like the Mount Doom and Pelennor Fields sequences. But they did quite well given they only had half or less the number of vocalists that some performances of this symphony have used. Plus the acoustics may have played a part and they stood behind the orchestra on risers but under the same enclosed weather cover.
– My only real annoyance, and it was a big one in places, was the panpipe guy. And to a lesser extent the woman playing that instrument which reminds me of a zither used for the Rohan theme. I wonder if they just dont know the music in its original intended form and theme, or they just like showing off silly flourishes where there are none written in the score. You know what I mean, twilling triplets and stuff like that when the score calls for (nay begs for in some cases) simple straight tones such as the various places especially the slower less joyous ones (the pan pip guy was just silly in how many flourishes he injected), and the return to Hobbiton where they realize in the green Dragon that they are indeed out of place (the zither lady was trilling like the pan pipe guy always did believe it or not). Sorry, but it took me waaaay out of the mood of those pieces, since some were precisely those moments of greatest emotional simplicity in the movie. For God’s sake all you future soloists and instrument lists on this symphony: DON’T NEEDLESSLY EMBELLISH PLEASE, THANKS!
– I really liked the pace and tempo of the score throughout, they kept it up like the movie versions and didn’t slow them down to a crawl, which makes many of the pieces almost painfully slow. Very nice conducting throughout.
Okay, just those nits otherwise a beautiful rendition.
Now I cant end this without some general “Why did they do that?” observations about the symphony, in any venue it pops up in…
– Why do they play Treebeard’s song at all? It is horrible in a concert setting, especially given so many worthy pieces being left out.
– Why not play more pieces, which aren’t even available on the CD? There are numerous ones that would be awesome in concert like when Gandalf falls (beginning of TTT), the actual melting of the Ring, the full intro to Minas Tirith as Gandlaf and Pippin approach.
– Including a few bits from the Extended versions, like Sam and Frodo watching the wood elves on their way to The Grey Havens, and the “Which way Gandalf, right or left” in Rivendell. Great job, now add more of those please :))
It was unique to me to see this concert in the very heart of Scandinavia, and everyone appreciated it immensely. That alone was worth the trip.