Live Performance: The Two Towers Score

Complete Score of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Howard Shore. Performed Live at Radio City Music Hall. Friday, October 8th 2010.

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Reviewed by Jessica Burke

[This review originally appeared in Mythprint 48:1 (#342) in January 2011.]

I’m one of those people who feel that music is vital to life—but in the world most of us live in, live music isn’t readily accessible and when we get the chance to hear a cherished piece of music performed live, the experience should be sublime. And, it usually is.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for Howard Shore’s complete score to The Two Towers performed live at Radio City this past weekend. While the music itself is beautiful, both Anthony and I found the experience was significantly dulled by having the film played at the same time. Yes. We are aware that this is a score to a film. However, it is also a symphony—and when going to hear Beethoven or Mozart performed, we’d be there for the performance. Folks attending this event were there first and foremost for the film—as evidenced by the continual hoots and applause every time a testosterone-laden actor graced the screen. At times, for the sake of balance, we tried our own applause for Treebeard, Éowyn, the kidnapping Orcs, the Eye of Sauron (not an evil Lighthouse)—but without much success (except for Treebeard where the applause caught on). And I was actually shushed by a twit in front of me for applauding the Eye. Really?!

The audience seemed oblivious to the fact that there were live performers on stage—except when the conductor, Luwdig Wicki, came on stage. Everyone around us was glued to the screen, even down to that same woman in front of me mouthing the dialogue to herself. The Dessoff Symphonic Choir and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus were dwarfed by the screen—and were pretty much non-existent to much of the audience. There was applause, I have to admit, at the entrance of Kaitlyn Lusk, the exquisite soprano, but I have to wonder if the applause was for Ms. Lusk—or for Arwen who had made a screen appearance at just about the same moment.

Some who know us may pipe up to say that we will find fault in anything film-related because we’re not big Peter Jackson fans. Not so. In 2005, we attended Robert Bass’s “The Rings: Myth and Music,” performance at Carnegie Hall. While that performance consisted of Shore’s score with selections from Wagner for comparison, and even though selections of the Jackson films were played—the music was the focal point of the evening. The musicians were the stars—not Orlando and Elijah. We had assumed, wrongly it seems, that the same would be true for the Radio City performance. We weren’t lucky enough to get tickets for last years’ Fellowship of the Ring performance, or we might have known better.

For me, Howard Shore’s music is one of the highlights of the Jackson films—and one of the saving graces. These musical achievements of Shore, for Anthony and me, stand as a testimony to the sheer effort that went into the making of these films—and highlight our regret that Jackson didn’t treat his source material with equal respect. We have our own copies of the score, and have listened to them with delight. The music is exceptional, and we were very much looking forward to seeing it performed live—again.

The performance was seamless and breathtaking, but unfortunately the blasted film took away from the fact that there were live human beings onstage actually performing something. The 21st Century Orchestra was brilliant. The strings were my personal favorite, and I would have been contented to just sit and listen—and watch the performers. Heidi Doppmann on harp and Roland Küng on dulcimer were some of the only performers not lost in the mêlée because they were physically separated from most of the orchestra. I found myself hunting the stage for the oboe and percussion. And our seats were good ones too, so please don’t tell me we were too far away from the stage to notice the performers.

We were just so damned distracted by the film. I guess that sums up the experience for me. Give me the music any day of the week. Ditch the films.

Our advice to the folks at Radio City—give us a symphony, not a rehashing of the entire film—clocking at over three hours. Lower your prices for soda and Twizzlers. We left there dazed and rather confused. I scouted around at the other reviews, and all of them were raves. I have to wonder if the reviewers were just being gracious because of the free tickets. We’re grateful to the wonderful press coordinators for this opportunity, but our policy is and always has been to give an honest review.

If there’s to be a Return of the King show next year, it’s our hope that the musical performance becomes the focus of this event—not the films. I mean, we can all crank up the volume at home and get the same effect. Or, to truly geek out, we can play the score on our surround sound stereo while watching the films. I wonder if you can try playing Dark Side of the Moon and get the same effect that you do with The Wizard of Oz … it’s worth a shot.

Complete Score of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Howard Shore. Performed Live at Radio City Music Hall. Friday, October 8th 2010.

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