Last weekend, I attended a performance of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in concert in NYC. It was hosted at the Lincoln Center, where I’ve seen the New York Philharmonic Orchestra perform. This event featured the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, who have been traveling the world essentially covering movie scores. Past performances include “live” screenings of Pirates of the Caribbean, Back to the Future, Ratatouille, Indiana Jones, and more. This was their first time performing the Lord of the Rings trilogy in North America.
Having bought this ticket off of a co-worker, I was locked into The Two Towers. Though I think I would have picked it had I had the option. I remember in middle school facing the exact same dilemma in a music store. Adoring the scores to these films, I wanted (and could only afford) one CD. It came down to Fellowship or Two Towers, with my love of the playful Shire music pulling me towards the first, and my love of the grandiose Rohan epics pulling me towards the second. In the end, I decided on Two Towers largely because it had a nice combination of “happy” music and action music. (Return of the King did not have much of what 12-year-old me classified as “happy” music, ruling it out entirely.)
Essentially, the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus of Lucerne played (and sang) the entire score to the film as the film played, projected on a large screen above the 250-ish musicians. In the second half, they were joined by a children’s chorus from the Bronx who handled some choice numbers. It was a very…surreal experience. Some times, I forgot the film was playing, and other moments, I forgot the music I was hearing was not pre-recorded (and was overwhelmed and impressed all over again seconds after I remembered where I was and that it was, in fact, real time). The moments where I was fully aware of both were what I imagine an out of body experience to be like.
One thing I especially loved was seeing Smeagol/Gollum’s theme played. There was a musician who played some type of zither–it was a string instrument that she struck with two sticks to produce what I can only describe as a very mischievous (and thus fitting) sound. That instrument only came out when Gollum was lurking about, and reminded me of a class I had in undergrad where the professor dissected Hans Zimmer’s score for The Lion King. She pointed out how Zimmer built certain melodies and even instruments around specific characters, and had the pieces grow with the characters. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but not something I ever thought about (as I am musically illiterate) and was thus floored by. Seeing it so clearly demonstrated in front of me made me all the more appreciative of Howard Shore, who not only had to create pieces for different characters, and tie species, locations, and varying degrees of epic-ness together, but had to carry that momentum through three very, very long films.
The choruses were so subtly wonderful. I’m so curious about the lyric books they used. I wonder how they learned the songs, as most were not in English (or any actual language (thanks, Tolkien). Again, not to beat a dead horse, but sometimes they were so perfect you forgot it was all happening in real time, right there, right in front of you! They chanted the battle cries and sung the ethereal elvish bits beautifully (as heard at the ends of the two videos below):
In addition to the chorus and children’s chorus, there was a featured soprano singer, Kaitlyn Lusk, who killed it during the end credits when Gollum’s song played:
Needless to say, I was blown away. Once the final credits rolled, and the last note was played, (well, before that, even) they were met with a standing ovation. The entire company ended up bowing about three times as the audience would not stop. Throughout the film, there were a few poorly timed bursts of applause, more focused on the film’s plot than the actual musical progression, but there was one line of dialogue spoken where everyone broke out into cheers, and I caught many of the orchestra members smiling knowingly as well. The experience reminded me why I (and the world) was so enthralled with every aspect of these films for a solid decade. Also, totally lost my shit right here and teared up like a mega-nerd at 2:53: