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By Peter “TheHutt” Klassen
In Germany, all major events around The Lord of the Rings attract attention from a hard-core group of fans. Any time something big happens about the Rings movies, a regular troupe of enthusiasts gets summoned from all around Germany. They usually know each other from other LOTR events; and for a day or a weekend they get together to demonstrate their costumes, meet their mates and, well, probably also to see the event which summoned them in the first place.
In the case of the Lord of the Rings Symphony which took place on May 28th 2006 in Cologne, Germany, you could see it really well. For the preshow party, organized by Stefan Servos of herr-der-ringe-film.de, fans came from all over Germany. Many faces and costumes were known from the Ring*Con, and the general atmosphere was similar the sunlit lobby of the large KölnArena hall reminded of the lobbies of the Maritim and Esperanto hotels (where the Ring*Con took place over the years however, those had more opportunities to sit down). At 2p.m. already there were girls in elven dresses waiting for admission on the benches around the building. For the party, a large section of the lobby was separated as a VIP lounge, where Tolkien fans could be among themselves. At 4 p.m., the regular commoners were allowed in as well though for two hours KölnArena was ruled by the ethereal female Elves and the brave male Dunedain. Stefan & Co. not only organized a stand for the German Tolkien Society (DTG) and Games Workshop, but also a stage with a band. The musicians stomped loudly with their Irish dance shoes; their music style was some mix of Irish folk and American country. Apart from that, the only thing to do for Tolkien fans was to stroll around the area, watching for their gowns and avoiding bare hobbit feet stepping on them. The RingStars were present (and were engaged by the reporter from German First Channel to start some show fights); and the Russian guests from The Trouble of the Rings project were photographed for the German newspaper Express. (link: http://fotogalerie.herr-der-ringe-film.de/data/500/express_symphony.jpg)
At 5:30p.m., the crowd was allowed in. KölnArena is one of the largest multifunctional event halls in Europe. There are ice hockey and basketball matches there as well as concerts by Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Carlos Santana. Thus, the atmosphere of the hall was not as classic and inspiring, as you could wish it to be. On the other hand, the acoustic characteristics of the hall are very even, and you can hear the music nicely both on the expensive front seats and on the cheaper seats high up.
Concerning the cheaper seats the management of the event has apparently not sold enough of the expensive seats for 53 euros; so they upgraded the cheap seats to the expensive categories for free. Instead of sitting at the crows nest for 25 euros, after exchanging your ticket you could take place down in a luxury seat with a great view. This is a major advantage compared to the Symphony concerts in Moscow, where the whole front seat section stayed empty (too expensive), and the balcony was packed full. The conductor was Markus Huber from Germany, who replaces Howard Shore wherever a concert is not too prominent. He already conducted the LotR Symphony in Chicago, Detroit and Salt Lake City. As it is generally known, every concert of the LotR Symphony is different, because it is performed by local orchestras. There was no exception in Cologne, where the orchestra was the Neue Philarmonie Westfalen with the choirs being the KölnChor and the Kinderchor der Oper Bonn (childrens choir of the Bonn opera). In the second part of the concert, the female solos were performed by a Dutch soprano Ann de Renais; the male solo was the baritone Phillip Langshaw (though his whole solo consisted of two lines in the epilogue).
It is also generally known that the Symphony has 6 movements, two for each LotR part. It began with the prologue, which is very similar to the (single) soundtrack CD, and does no actually appear in the movie in this form, though it ended (unlike the CD) with the well-known History of the Ring theme, which is used whenever the movie title is shown in the films. To hear this music performed live and to feel how it is created just in this very moment was a special feeling which gave me shivers. The complete 12-hours soundtrack was compressed to a 2h-Symphony, and you could tell that from the Two Towers and Return of the King sections: they both were combined to the second part of the concert, and featured only a few themes each. The Return of the King also mostly consisted of the epilogue after the destruction of the Ring. Another interesting detail: even though the Symphony was short, some pieces from the SEE were used in it. This is the case for the scene of leaving Rivendell as well as for the gift scene when leaving Lothlorien. The arrangements of the tracks were mostly like they are on the soundtrack CD; however, The Bridge of Khazad-Dum was a more complete version, more like it was in the movie.
As every orchestra plays the Symphony differently, it was interesting to hear out the differences compared to the official soundtrack. The Neue Philarmonie Westfalen orchestra managed it rather well. Specifically, the quiet passages full of harmony were very well-done, like The Shire, Shadows of the Past, Lothlorien. This also was the case for action themes like The Bridge of Khazad-Dum or Helms Deep. When a music theme was somewhere between these two extremes, the orchestra sometimes had trouble. The Fellowship-Theme on their walk through Eregion was spoilt by too fast a tempo and by kettledrums which were overly loud. Same is the case for the Last march of the Ents too fast, too much beat. The kettledrums were a problem throughout the concert; they should have been more restrained. The absence of the Hardanger fiddle was noticeable (it is only used at important concerts); the Rohan theme was played vividly, but the sound was slightly different. The famous broken-up piano with chains beating on strings was there; however, you could only hear it for a few beats during the Amon Hen battle.
Concerning choirs: the childrens choir was great. The sad tune after Gandalfs fall and the final song In Dreams in the first part were performed really touching. The normal choir was a bit worse: the male choir lacked bass, so the chanting in Moria didnt sound as dwarvish as it should. The female choir sang well if they didnt have to sing anything special: the Lament for Gandalf in Lothlorien was ruined by a unfitting female voice. And, everybody has had their troubles with Elvish. By the way, both Enya songs, Aniron and May it be were absent probably, because of the copyright issues (they are by Enya, not by Howard Shore) . In the second part of the concert, the Dutch singer Ann de Renais performed all the female solos and did it very well. Her soprano voice is very smooth and decent, allowing to perform a wide range of styles: from ethereal Elven singing in Evenstar to the schizophrenic and björkish Gollums Song. She had her problems with Into the West though in the stanzas, the song was too low for her soprano voice. Phillip Langshaw performed Aragorns part quite unusually, with a deep and powerful bass, very unlike to Viggo Mortensens whispering mumbling.
The show was accompanied on a large screen by moving, zooming and fading pictures by Alan Lee and John Howe. Many of them were familair from Alan Lees book Lord of the Rings Sketchbook. If anybody remembers the bonus DVD from the Giftset of RotK SEE: when watching it, you can easily get the impression that the images are appearing at random without a connection to the current theme; this is no so. The images were always in connection with the music themes, and on some dramatic places they were exactly in sync. The slideshow was very decent and pleasant, having more connection to Tolkiens world rather to the movies by PJ.
After the last chords, everybody was surprised by the standing ovations which the conductor and the soloists received. They returned back on stage for no less than 5 times.
Altogether, the concert was a full success. I cannot compare it with other concerts of the LotR Symphony, but as far as I heard, the Cologne concert was better than many comparable concerts in Europe. Anyway, if you are in Germany in January 2007 there will be a concert of the Symphony in the famous Gewandhaus concert hall in Leipzig on January 6th.