by Dan Goldwasser
Back in March, just hours before Howard Shore won his first Academy Award for his score to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, he let me in on a little secret. He was working on a concert arrangement of his score from the film, to be premiered at the Hollywood Bowl later this summer. Well, the summer has arrived, and so to has Shore's new concert suite. The evenings of August 9th and 10th heralded the premiere of that concert work, and with a running time of approximately 45-minutes, a few additional pieces were selected to fit the program.
The theme of the evening, as it were, became that of the Ring Mythology. As conductor John Mauceri explained, ever since the Iron Age, mankind has had a thing for rings, and most ancient cultures had ring legends. One of the more famous ones is retold in the Ring Cycle, by Richard Wagner. As a result, the first cue of the evening was "Ride of the Valkyries". The vocal portion of the cue wasn't performed, to my disappointment, and the brass seemed a little thin and lacked the punch the piece so required. But other than that, the piece was as exciting as it could be, and thankfully there were no helicopter flyovers. I should point out, though, that Mauceri's dissertation was as always, highly fluid, entertaining, and brimming with information and facts.
From there we moved on to "Jupiter", from Holst's "The Planets". It had been a while since I've listened to this piece, so it was almost like hearing it again for the first time, with fresh ears. I hadn't really noted how many other film composers have been influenced by this particular piece, including John Williams ("The Mission Theme"), Elmer Bernstein ("National Geographic Theme"), James Horner (Braveheart), and even Harry Gregson-Williams (Chicken Run - although that could be the Bernstein influence).
While it really has nothing to do with Ring mythology (and more to do with a ring of a cash-register), there was a segment focusing on John Williams' score to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Broken into four movements, the first and last segments were by far the best: "Hedwig's Theme" and "Harry's Wondrous World". These were pretty much the same two pieces as appear on the album, and the performance was rather enjoyable. However, the middle two movements, "Diagon Alley" and "Fluffy's Harp" were a bit of a snooze-fest. Sure, there was some impressive violin solo work in "Diagon Alley", but the small ensemble gave the rest of the orchestra time to rest, and it felt rather sparse. That was then followed by the even sparser duet between a harp and a contrabassoon for "Fluffy's Harp". Again, the performances were well done, but the decision to play (essentially) two source cues left a me feeling like they could have done something different that would have been more appropriate.
Following a brief intermission, the highlight of the evening began. The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra was joined by the Pacific Chorale (approximately 80-people or so), to perform the world premiere of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring concert suite. The piece was split into two movements. The first movement ran approximately 10-minutes long, and covered the film up until the Rivendale sequence. The second movement ran 35-minutes long, and covered the rest of the film. The problem with taking 3-hours of music and squeezing it down into 45-minutes is that you are bound to leave a lot of stuff out - but Shore somehow manages to pull it off. The performances were, for the most part, excellent. However, no live performance is without its flaws, especially on a dense and complex work such as LOTR:FOTR. The pipe solo, for the Hobbiton sequences, had a bit of a hard time hitting a few of the notes. And the boy soloist did an adequate job, but was probably up a little past his bedtime - he seemed just a bit tired. Still, the exciting action, tragic drama, and epic heroism that make up the score were well conveyed in the performances.
Special thanks to Rachelle Roe and Elizabeth Hinckley at the Hollywood Bowl Press Office, and John Mullin.