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Issue Date: February 2006 Issue


The Orchestra and the "Rings"


Amy Bracken Sparks

They aren't Hobbits, and they won't be singing in High Elvish, but it'll be a spectacle worthy of Middle Earth when more than 200 people gather onstage at Severance Hall this month to perform the "Lord of the Rings" Symphony.

The Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus and the Cleveland Orchestra Children's Chorus will perform the symphony composed by Oscar- and Grammy Award-winning Howard Shore, known for his elaborate film scores, including the music for David Cronenberg's "Naked Lunch." Shore's "Lord of the Rings" Symphony is a two-hour distillation of his
original 11-hour score for Peter Jackson's blockbuster trilogy.

"The audience is taken on a wonderful journey in this concert," says Peter Czornyj, artistic administrator with the Cleveland Orchestra. "This symphony is one of the biggest draws for symphony concerts all over the world."

To make Shore?s six-part score even more dramatic, a sequence of grand graphics by artists Alan Lee and John Howe will be projected above the stage. Shore himself conducts a coup for the orchestra since he rarely conducts his own work and several instrumental and vocal soloists are featured, including 17-year-old mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn Lusk, who sings the Oscar-winning song "Into the West."

Unusual instruments the Irish hand-held bodhrán, hammered dulcimer, nylon-string guitar, Irish whistle, fiddle, a musette accordion, metal bell plates, Japanese taiko drums, and chains beaten on piano strings provide color. Shore has assigned certain musical characteristics to the inhabitants of Middle Earth: Rough male vocalizations symbolize the Dwarves, eastern-sounding strings indicate the Elves, and violent percussive sounds, including the taiko drums, are used for the evil Orcs. A restrained brass sound introduces the world of humans, and Celtic-sounding melodies hail
the heroes of this epic, the Hobbits.

"I was absolutely entranced when I saw it performed," says Czornyj, who programs orchestra concerts in collaboration with Music Director Franz Welser-Möst and Executive Director Gary Hanson. "It's a powerful, descriptive narrative that I think people will love."

"It helps to know your way around the story," Czornyj adds, "but it's not required."
So why not wait until summer when the orchestra performs more of a pops program at Blossom Music Center."

"We want to perform at least one high-quality pops concert in Severance Hall to attract people into the hall. If they like the experience, perhaps they'll come back for our regular programming," says Czornyj.

Premiered in New Zealand, where the trilogy was filmed, in 2003, the "Lord of the Rings" Symphony has been performed throughout the U.S. and elsewhere by various symphonies and choirs, but not by the likes of the Cleveland Orchestra and its powerful orchestra chorus, prepared by Robert Porco, and the children's chorus, prepared by Ann Usher.

So what might the old master J.R.R. Tolkien think of what his humble, allegorical story of Hobbits has inspired? A witty boy obsessed with languages, Tolkien grew up speaking Welsh and mastered Latin, Greek, Finnish, several Germanic languages, Old English and Old Norse. At an early age, he began creating his own languages, many of which appear as poetry in his writings and as bits of song in the symphony. In other words, the musicality of language and writing
songs were very important to Tolkien. You can bet he?d be tickled by all the attention, and the sheer volume of sound would have overwhelmed him.

The "Lord of the Rings" Symphony will be performed at 8 p.m. Feb. 10 and 11 and at 3 p.m. Feb. 12 at Severance Hall. For more information, visit www.clevelandorchestra.comor call (216) 231-1111 or 1-800-686-1141.


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