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FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...

September 17, 2004
"Rings" Symphony to be Performed
Shore work debuts in Los Angeles, London
by Jon Burlingame


Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings Symphony will be performed on opposite sides of the world over the next few days: on Tuesday at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, with John Mauceri conducting, and on Wednesday and Thursday at the Royal Albert Hall in London with the composer conducting.

The two-hour work is believed to the largest-scale concert piece ever derived from a film score. Tuesday's event will be performed by the 90-plus musicians of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra plus 120-voice mixed choir (the Chapman University Choir and Hollywood Bowl High School Honor Choir), 30-voice children's choir (the Los Angeles Children's Chorus) and three soloists: vocalists Susan Egan and Carolyn Betty and boy soprano Eugene Olea.

Complementing the music will be the imagery of Tolkien illustrators Alan Lee and John Howe projected on the Bowl's new screens.

Shore, who won three Academy Awards for his work on director Peter Jackson's epic trilogy based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novels, credits Mauceri with the idea of adapting the music for live symphonic performance. "John was the first to recognize the potential of this piece," he said recently. "He helped me edit and shape the 11 hours of music composed for the trilogy into this two-hour symphony in six movements for orchestra and chorus."

Mauceri contacted Shore after hearing the soundtrack of The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), as Shore was preparing the additional music for the extended DVD version of the film. "I thought, just as I do with any wonderful score for the cinema, that we need to have a performing edition of this music," Mauceri said this week.

Shore agreed, proposing a six-movement work (since Tolkien's own original structure was six books published in three volumes) that would encompass all of the major themes as they were introduced and developed throughout the three films. Mauceri premiered the first two movements at the Bowl in 2002. Tuesday's performance will mark the Los Angeles premiere of the remaining four movements, from The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

"I believe very firmly – and have from the moment I started studying film music – that the entire genre is a repository of some of the greatest orchestral music written in the past 80 years," Mauceri says. "Great film music transcends the image, just as ballet music can exist in a concert, or great dramatic music written for the theater. If the music is good, it transcends its original function."

The choirs will be singing in the various Tolkien-created languages of the Rings trilogy: Mostly the Elvish languages of Quenya and Sindarin but also Adunaic (the ancient tongue of the men of Numenor), Black Speech (Sauron's evil tongue of Mordor), Dwarvish and Rohirric (Old English).

While only the most dedicated and knowledgable Tolkien buffs will understand the text, Mauceri insists that this poses no problem for listeners. "The sounds of these words evoke a mystical and mythical past," he points out, "even though the specific meaning of each word is not known. It sets the piece in time and space."

Musically speaking, concertgoers will recognize Shore's diverse sounds and styles, as Rings music expert Doug Adams says in his program notes: "The rural and simple Hobbits are rooted in a dulcet weave of Celtic tones. The mystical Elves touch upon ethereal Eastern colors. The Dwarves, Tolkien's abrasive stonecutters, receive columns of parallel harmonies and a rough, guttural male chorus. The industrialized hordes of Orcs earn Shore's most violent and percussive sounds, including Japanese taiko drums, metal bell plates and chains beaten upon piano wires. The world of Men, those flawed yet noble heirs of Middle-earth, is represented by stern and searching brass figures. Original folk songs stand alongside diatonic hymns, chromatically complex tone clusters, and seething, dissonant aleatoric passages."

Adams, in an interview, notes that the symphony "is not an absolutely literal journey through Tolkien's story. It's a suite, both dramatically and musically.... Shore takes the story elements and stirs them up a bit to touch upon the major events and characters, but ultimately provides something that is primarily balanced from a musical perspective."

Fans familiar with the three soundtrack CDs will be pleased, Adams believes: "It is very much like hearing the three albums transformed into a single symphonic entity with reworked transitions, a little dramatic shuffling, and a few new orchestrations. It was a monumental task to create a structure that stands on its own, treats listeners to all of the thematic material they expect to hear, and relates the essential stories and concepts from Tolkien's book and Jackson's film."

According to Mauceri, Shore's Rings symphony is unique in several aspects: "Howard uses a collectively understood image of ancient music, of chant, of incantation, of stasis in harmonic accompaniment – so that right from the beginning, with the use of an unknown language, and the chanting in unison of the chorus, we are going back in time.

"He also absorbs into the storytelling Celtic harmonies and Nordic melodic lines. He makes a coherent story and his musical elements are strong enough to support 11 hours of music," Mauceri adds, referring to the original length of all three scores combined. "Unbelievable, when you think about it. And remember that Howard is orchestrating his own music as well as composing it."

The piece is "a phenomenon," he says. "When orchestras announce it now, they inevitably have to add two, three or four performances (to fulfill audience demand). I don't think, historically, there has been such a work, a contemporary orchestral piece that has had this kind of grassroots support."


© 2004 Jon Burlingame

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