Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A nice Ring to it...

What a week or so it has been for live film music in London. I’ve been fortunate enough to find my self in the company of the LSO, the RPO and, last night, the LPO. Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings trilogy opener The Fellowship of the Ring, performed live to picture at London’s Royal Albert Hall was the icing on a very enjoyable cake. Conductor Ludwig Wicki, the man who has been looking after Shore’s baby for the past couple of years now, has been touring the world with this first magnificent spectacle and will soon hit the road with the second instalment The Two Towers. The London audience has to wait a year for Part II of the experience, but last night’s show will surely live in their minds for a long while yet.

What made the performance of this complete score extra special for those in attendance, Wicki himself, not to mention Howard Shore – who was in the audience – was the fact that it was played by the music’s original cast. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Voices and London Oratory School Schola, were reunited on stage and worked their magic from the opening logos through to the end credits. Those lucky enough to get a ticket, and a good view of the giant cinema screen above the massive ensemble, were treated to a spellbinding presentation of what film music is all about. There was no fanfare, no shouting, just the film and the music and at times I genuinely forgot all those people on the stage before me were even there. That says a lot for the film and story, which always manages to captivate, not to mention the role of the music which immediately became one with the image it was written for. This was the first time I’d watched a complete film with live music and I have to say it was at times a bizarre experience. As I said, it was easy to get lost in the whole film experience and completely ignore the musicians beavering away beneath the screen, except for those moments where a particular sounds rang out – like the immense clanging during the scenes in Isengard – and bam you’re aware once again that this massive, intricate collection of sounds and melodies is coming from the people on the stage and not from a reel of tape, or a disc. I also found myself more aware, mesmerised even, when it came to the big moments in the score – the haunting beauty of the music for the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien, aided by the female members of the huge choir; the masculine thunder found in the sections for the Balrog and ‘The Bridge of Khazad-Dun’, not to mention the discovery of Dwarrodelf, the passage between the mighty statues of the Kings of old on the river and the emotional passings of Gandalf and Boromir. Highlights all and each served to whet the appetite for the bigger things that await in the second and third scores – just the thought of ‘The Lighting of the Beacons’ and ‘Mount Doom’ from The Return of the King is enough to make me want to wish the months away.

Technically it’s quite a feat to perform a complete score to picture; while Maestro Wicki did of course have his own screen from which to follow the action, I didn’t see any cans on the heads of the players, so a click-track wasn’t used - which is itself amazing. Of course balance was always going to be an issue, in terms of dialogue, and subtitles were needed so the audience didn’t miss moments in the film; it wasn’t a problem though and on the whole it all played together very succinctly.

The setting of the Royal Albert Hall was perfect and, coming to it just days after my Star Wars experience at the o2 Arena my thoughts were confirmed; this would have been a far better choice for Star Wars: A Musical Journey. The atmosphere in that beautiful space was warm and friendly; the presentation magnificently intimate, though the ensemble and screen were by no means any smaller. This is what a live film and music experience should be like and I count myself lucky to have been there.

I remember having dinner with Maestro Wicki and his wife, amongst other people, in Cannes toward the end of 2006; we were all in town for the performance of Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony in nearby Nice. Wicki had come along to rehearsals to meet with Howard Shore for the first time, to make his acquaintance prior to his starting work on this mammoth project. Flash forward two and a half years and I am very pleased to have finally been able to experience what I had been told about that weekend. Truly magical…

My thanks to Jodie Jenkins and everyone at The Royal Albert Hall.

Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers will be presented in the same way by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Voices at the Royal Albert Hall on April 23rd and 24th 2010. Visit for further information.

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