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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
Lord of the Rings' great sound overshadows onscreen action
Arts & Entertainment
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Lord of the Rings' great sound overshadows onscreen action

by Oliver Santos - Special to the SGN

Lord of the Rings in Concert: The Fellowship of the Ring
October 19
Key Arena


Hailed as one of the highlight events at Key Arena this season, Lord of the Rings in Concert: The Fellowship of the Ring came with added impetus. Lest members of the public assume that only the most ardent fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy would find the experience mesmerizing (this, on the 10th anniversary of the film's release), this screening came with a live performance of Howard Shore's Oscar - and Grammy-winning score by a large contingent of musicians and artists including Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki, the Munich Symphony Orchestra, soloist Kaitlyn Lusk, and two highly-regarded ensembles, the Pacific Chorale and the Phoenix Boys Choir, practically guaranteeing that the evening would turn out to be more than just another cinematic feast.

From a purely musical standpoint, the evening was an inspiring success. The orchestra's performance was full of energy and precision - a quality, by the way, that our home-grown symphony is starting to embody more and more, judging by recent performances.

Guided by the spirited direction of Maestro Wicki, founder of the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, a Swiss-based ensemble dedicated to melding film and score, the clarinet and oboe, flute, percussion (drums, timpani, and every conceivable noise-making instrument), brass, and string sections went to town and made it obvious that the musicians were having as much fun performing as the audience was listening. One of the interesting observations was how sets of instruments - clarinet and oboe, for instance - doubled together as accordions during the film's light-hearted moments. Another was how percussion instruments added to the metallic qualities of swordfights overall and the crescendo of foot soldiers on the march.

Lusk's haunting and lilting soprano, a role she established to great acclaim in performances with 25 different orchestras since 2004, perfectly complemented the on-screen dialogue. The Pacific Chorale drew the challenging role of making sure voice did not drown out the dialogue, and also highlighted those scenes where their choral voices were required to accentuate moments of depth, despair, and defiance. The Phoenix Boys Choir backed the Chorale seamlessly and provided the added touch of aura to Lusk's solos.

Alas, having extolled the virtues of the music, the film should have been played in a smaller venue, considering only a standard cinema projection was offered. Those seated in the back experienced challenges contending with what appeared to be a small screen. Even though everyone by now knows the various scenes by heart (or so it seemed), such a presentation with an impressive live score would have been more appropriate in a venue like Benaroya Hall, where the standard projection screen would have sufficed for the occasion. As it was, at Key Arena, an IMAX-size screen would have been more appropriate.

Thus, the visual 'feel' of this experience rang somewhat hollow. I recall a silky, sublime grandeur to the San Francisco Symphony's score to a restoration of Sergei Eisenstein's epic Alexander Nevsky. This, to me, remains the standard for such performances. It was screened in San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall with a standard projection screen, and it worked very well. Peter Jackson's opus should have had a similar feel, especially as there is no shortage of popular appeal to Tolkien's work.

Of course, I came to this screening to listen to the music, so I will obligingly ignore the shortcomings of the venue and just say that there ought to have been a larger audience.

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