A Day at the Symphony

Wednesday, February 12th, 2003

Well, February 9th was the day: Jeremy and I got all dolled up (me in a long black coat which Jeremy appropriately dubbed "Tolkein-esque") and headed off to London for our afternoon of music at the Royal Festival Hall .

Ever since I ordered the tickets for this concert over the phone, I was plagued by the neurotic fear that somehow the reservation had gotten messed up and we would either be stuck in crummy seats for the whole performance or we would show up and there would be no tickets for us at all. This fear proved to be unfounded, of course. In fact, our seats turned out to be loads better than I had even imagined. We had a perfect view of the stage, and we were fairly close to the middle of the hall, so the acoustics were good as well.

There were four sections to the program - the highlight, of course, being the Fellowship of the Ring score. The first two acts - a Celtic-y inspired string quartet thingie and a performance of Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale - were fine, if somewhat underwhelming. The Celtic thing was okay but never really gelled somehow, although the last piece that they did - a sprightly, French-sounding tune for accordion and strings - was quite catchy. The Stravinsky performance, which accompanied an animated film, was enjoyable enough. The film was very good; the music was just kind of there, but maybe I simply wasn’t paying it enough attention.

The next act - the Tannoura Troupe of whirling dervishes - was utterly fantastic. As eager as I was to hear the Lord of the Rings music, I could have watched and listened to these performers for a lot longer. Watching a guy spin in place continuously for half an hour is completely entrancing, particularly when the spinning is accompanied by such eerie, insistent, hypnotic music. The feats that the dervishes performed with their brightly colored skirts as they spun round and round were incredible. I was in awe throughout the whole performance, as was the rest of the audience, and the Troupe got a thunderous, well-deserved round of applause when their show was over.

I think all the spinning and drumming got people worked up for the highlight of the evening, so when Howard Shore finally took to the stage with the London Philharmonic, there was thunderous applause again. Seeing Mr. Shore walk out on stage was like seeing a superstar, and I couldn’t stop grinning as I settled back into my seat for the performance I had been waiting so eagerly to see.

From the opening strains of the score, I knew it would be fantastic. It was quite startling to be in the presence of an orchestra playing this music that I’ve come to know so well from the movie and the soundtrack, and to hear actual choirs sing such unearthly tunes. I really enjoyed being able to see exactly which instruments are doing what in the different parts of the score, and I loved having the sound of kettle drums and trombones and bizarre metallic percussion-y things wash over me as I sat there.

If I had one complaint, it would be that the vocal parts didn’t come across as strongly in the Royal Festival Hall as they do on the recording; at times, the choirs tended to be drowned out a bit by the orchestra. The rest of the sound was enormous, though - and that’s exactly what I was hoping for when I went to this show.

It was all over far too quickly, of course. Howard Shore got a standing ovation and came back to the stage three times looking genuinely flattered and surprised and grateful. If we hadn’t needed to catch a train, I would have hung around in the Royal Festival Hall to try to catch another glimpse of Mr. Shore (and, yes, to have him sign my program - I have no shame…). As it was, we had to head out into the misty night, our heads still filled with the music - and our hearts filled with the hopes of a Two Towers concert next year.


Sorry. Comments are closed.