Review: Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert’

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Original Score composed by Howard Shore Composer Howard Shore brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary imagination to vivid life with his Academy® and GRAMMY® Award–winning score to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  By the way, Howard Shore is Canadian!

Shore’s music expresses Peter Jackson’s film as an immense symphonic work—a uniquely developed vision drawn from centuries of stylistic tendencies. The music of The Lord of the Rings is counted among film music’s most complex and comprehensive works. This unique performance sets the score to the film, but allows the music to bear the narrative weight, creating a wholly new and dramatic live concert experience.

Shore’s score not only captures Fellowship’s sweeping emotion, thrilling vistas, and grand journeys, but also echoes the very construction of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.    Styles, instruments, and performers collected from around the world provide each of Tolkien’s cultures with a unique musical imprint. The rural and simple hobbits are rooted in a dulcet weave of Celtic tones.  The mystical Elves merit ethereal Eastern colours.

The Dwarves, Tolkien’s abrasive stonecutters, receive columns of parallel harmonies and a rough, guttural male chorus. The industrialized hordes of Orcs claim Shore’s most violent and percussive sounds, including Japanese taiko drums, metal bell plates and chains beaten upon piano wires, while the world of Men, flawed yet noble heirs of Middle-earth, is introduced with stern and searching brass figures. In operatic fashion, these musical worlds commingle, sometimes combining forces for a culminated power, other times violently clashing…and always bending to the will of the One Ring and its own ominous family of themes.

The music’s vast scope calls for symphony orchestra, mixed chorus, children’s chorus, and instrumental and vocal soloists singing in the Tolkien-crafted languages Quenya, Sindarin, Khuzdul, Adûnaic, Black Speech, as well as English. Original folk songs stand alongside diatonic hymns, knots of polyphony, complex tone clusters, and seething, dissonant aleatoric passages. It is purposeful, knowing writing, as contained in execution as it is far-reaching in influence; for within this broad framework resides a remarkably concise musical vision.

Shore’s writing assumes an earthy, grounded tone built on sturdy orchestral structures and a sense of line that is at once fluid yet stripped of frivolous ornamentation.

Says Howard Shore, “This is the first time that the complete score to The Fellowship of the Ring will be performed live to projection in Toronto. My first score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, was the beginning of my journey into the world of Tolkien and I will always hold a special fondness for the music and the experience.”

—Doug Adams is a Chicago-based musician and writer. He is the author of the book The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films.

Review:

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

It was pretty fitting that we took in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in Concert’ last night as the end of the year creeps towards us. The 3 night sold out performance captured Howard Shore Academy Award ®– Winning Score at its essence and perfectly ‘lit’ the Roy Thomson Hall space with a musical respite from the damp weather outside.

There was a definite excited energy in the air as we took our seats above Roy Thomson Hall. We had a perfect view.  The space was filled and there were a few die heard fans in full Arwen gear in front of us.  We made sure to pick up our cocktails and popcorn prior to the performance.   It’s great that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra encourages guests to indulge on treats from the concession stand for evening performances.  It is a truly cultural experience watching a film and having the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s musical wares wash over you.

The nuances that Conductor, Ludwig Wicki, brought to the table last night amplified every note that may have gotten lost as we watched ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ on the big screen in the past.  From the lovely Kaitlyn Lusk’s soprano solos and the Canadian Children Opera Company’s subtle but eloquent odes to the landscapes and intimate scenes between characters – the emotion was at its height last night.  There were tears, laughter, sighs of relief and ‘yes!’ in unison but the audience members.   We were in union last night.  Alastair Thorburn-Vitols the boy soprano was gentle in his intent with his performance but he was sure to provide the goose bump texture for the evening.   The evening was rich, diverse and beautifully curated.

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s deep bass made us cringe at numerous points throughout the performance. In those moments we constantly were made aware that the collective group of musicians, conductor and singers are true athletes.  A three hour performance with one intermission – we felt emotionally and physically raw.  Sure, these musicians are professionals – but how do they do it?  Not only were they able to evoke, provoke and keep up with a consistent momentum and still ‘slay’ us – they did it with joy, verve and it was gobsmackingly good.  The audience repaid the musicians with an epic prolonged standing ovation which was well deserved.

Music from the soundtrack that we visited in our travels together with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in the Shire and abroad included of:

PART I

Prologue: One Ring To Rule Them All

The Shire

Bag End

Very Old Friends

Farewell Dear Bilbo

Keep It Secret, Keep It Safe

A Conspiracy Unmasked

Three is Company

Saruman the White

A Shortcut to Mushrooms

Strider

The Nazgûl

Weathertop

The Caverns of Isengard

Give Up the Halfling

Orthanc

Rivendell

The Sword That Was Broken

The Council of Elrond Assembles

The Great Eye

Intermission

PART II

The Pass of Caradhras

The Doors of Durin

Moria

Gollum

Balin’s Tomb

Khazad-dûm

Caras Galadhon

The Mirror of Galadriel

The Fighting Uruk-hai

Parth Galen

The Departure of Boromir

The Road Goes Ever On…

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is definitely on to something here.   Last night was an excellent example of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra not only illuminating the beauty of Howard Shore’s score but also raising the bar on entertainment in the city of Toronto.  The audience lay in awe as we left Roy Thomson Hall last night and brimming with gratitude for an art that is hardly fading thanks to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s efforts and gracious talent.

https://www.tso.ca/

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