By Kathy Goodman
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of The Lord of the Rings Symphony, presented by Howard Shore at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The symphony is being performed all around the country—around the world, actually, and when it comes to a city near you, move heaven and earth to go. It’s an amazing experience to hear that music performed by a live orchestra, complete with choirs, and if you’re really lucky, with Howard Shore directing.
At the concert I attended, Shore did not direct, but was there to introduce the symphony. Before the music, he sat down for a casual question and answer session with the enthusiastic audience. For this, there was no assigned seating—it was survival of the fittest in the fight for the front row. Fit I may not be, but determined, I was. Uma Thurman’s “Bride” kicked less ass than I did, hurtling myself down the aisle, throwing slower fans left and right until I secured those coveted front row center seats for myself and my two friends. Shore patiently answered the same questions he must have been asked a thousand times (“What were your inspirations?” “What’s your favorite movie score, other than this one?”). He revealed that a full 12-hour set of CDs, containing all the music from the movies (extended versions!) will be released this year, in conjunction with a book written about the score itself, and the process of turning it into a symphony. I know nothing about writing music—the book will probably be way over my head, but I cannot wait for the CDs. When the Q & A was over, Shore got a huge ovation. Over-excited dork that I was, I waved at him rather than clapping. Sweetly, he waved back.
And that was where our close encounter ended. Everyone left the theatre and then was let back in, this time to our assigned seats. In all of my days, I have never sat so far from the stage at any concert, anywhere. My two companions and I sat on the back row of the third balcony, literally as far away as we could possibly be. I suppose we were lucky to even get those seats—the place was packed. So full, in fact, that one of my friends, an architect, quickly became convinced the balcony would not hold all of us. The Auditorium Theater is very old, but I, trusting soul that I am, assumed it was up to code and safe. My friend, talking faster and faster as his panic progressed, said, “No, no—they didn’t even have codes when this was built. I bet it was tacked on after the rest of the theatre was finished. It may never have held this many people before. I can’t stay here” and with that, he was gone. He scurried down the ladder-like stairs we had climbed to our seats, and we didn’t see him again until intermission, when he cautiously poked his head around the corner & gestured for me to come to the lowest level of that third balcony. He said he’d gotten us seats on the second balcony, which he had much more faith in. The three of us sat in the relative safety of the second balcony for the rest of the concert, and all was well. If that third balcony had indeed collapsed, we would’ve been crushed, of course, sitting beneath it as we were, but I chose not to point that out to my fearful friend.
As for the concert itself, of course it was fantastic. Behind the symphony, and flanked by choirs, was a huge video screen onto which were projected John Howe drawings from the three movies. Guest soloist Sissel did a wonderful job with vocal pieces such as Gollum’s Song and Into the West. She’s also done solo work on the extended version of Return of the King, so she’ll be featured in the promised extended CD set.
There were a few surprising omissions—for instance, The Bridge of Khazad-dum, with its ferocious deep chanting, was breathtaking, but the ethereal “mourning” music that finishes the piece in the film is missing here. It’s some of my favorite music in the entire trilogy—so beautiful, yet so overwhelmingly sad. But all in all, there’s really nothing to complain about. I realize that I’ve spent more time in this review relating my personal experience than talking about the concert itself, but really, do you need me to tell you that the Lord of the Rings Symphony was fantastic? I’m just confirming what you already knew—even if you never again darken the door of a symphony concert, this is one experience you should not miss.