Friday, May 23, 2008

Wolf Trap Reviews

Hi everyone,

By all accounts, Wolf Trap was an immense success. (And if you're joining us for the first time after this week's performances, welcome!) Please enjoy this collection of reviews, both from this site's readers and elsewhere on the web. I hope to add to this regularly throughout the next few days.

...and yes, Wolf Trap is already gearing up for
The Two Towers next year!

The Washington Post:
"...the music is rich and complex, drawing on a vast range of styles and exotic instruments to evoke J.R.R. Tolkien's world of elves, hobbits and warlocks. But it's more than just background music: Shore uses an elaborate leitmotif technique (where musical themes are associated with specific characters or ideas, and are developed across the entire series) to hold the sprawling tale together. Lush, beautiful and full of intriguing surprises, it's no wonder that it's become one of the most popular film scores ever written."



My wife and I had a chance to make it to the Wednesday Wolf Trap performance. Other than a minor hiccup with the sound system and a tiny burr in one of the later solos, it was outstanding. We had a great time and listing to a live orchestra with the film was a great way to get a whole new perspective on the beauty of both the film and the music. 

Timothy Fisher:

It will rank as one of the most outstanding experiences I have ever been priviledged to enjoy! I cannot express with enough gratitude, wonder and enthusiasm for Maestro Shore, Maestro Ludwig Wicki, and the forces of the "Filene Center Orchestra", the City Choir of Washington, and the World Children's Choir and the techies of the Filene Center itself how I felt after it concluded and we stepped out in the brisk starry, moonlight, forested night. To have pulled this off as movingly and flawlessly as they did was truly heroic! The massive technical equipment in evidence made one marvel at how easily a minor techinical gitch might have brought this complex event to grief. Yet technically with the superb HD visuals and superb sound equipment this presentation of the theatrical version of the film with adjusted score went off almost without flaw. 

So let me begin by setting the stage: I and a few other Tolkienites arrived at Wolf Trap about 6 pm, got our picnic fixings together and despite light rain and drizzle under greyed skies that gathered late that afternoon and temperature about 65, we sat under the trees at a picnic table and had a grand meal of stuffed mushrooms (what else!), ratatouille, salad, fish, shrimp, wine, eggs and what not... By 7:15 we were done and adjourned for the lecture by Deb Lamberton describing (a la Doug Adams) and playing sound bites of the most important leitmotivs of "Fellowship" which concluded with some important precoursers of Shore's score: Rachmaninoff's 1st Symphony, Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique, and several others, showing his work as fully within the mainstream of Western classical music. 

We settled then into our seats up in the "box" section (front balcony) of the huge Filene Center. The "shed" is magnificent and very impressive. All wood and open on three sides to the grassy lawns and woods beyond and rising high above us, while seating 3800, it outranks the Met here in NYC in seats and the front of the proscenium surely dwarfs that of even the Met! As the evening wore on, the clouds cleared and the temperature dropped (one can imagine the efforts of the instrumentalists had to keep their instruments in tune!), so it was a bracing evening, but we were bundled up in preparation for just that. By the time the concert was over, the stars were out and a full moon in a clear night sky greeted us as we left the auditorium. What a perfect venue for a work (book and film) that is so immersed in the wonders of created nature! 

From our vantage point we could see most of the orchestra seated below on the stage, but half of it was hidden by the movie screen hung in the front of the stage which had to be low so those back under the balcony could see it. There was another large screen hung outside the back for the many hundreds gathered on the fresh green lawn. The chorus was placed behind the orchestra and also mostly hidden from us. Come the intermission, we quietly moved down to the vacant middle orchestra seats to be able to watch the full forces rise to their triumph and I found the orchestral sound so much richer and fuller. The only reason we had settled for the balcony was the inflexible Internet system of offering seat locations, which would have had us in row B for the film!

The first ten minutes were a bit problematic as the sound level of the film dialogue was inadvertantly set too low (I think we might have been hearing only what the lawn folks outside were hearing...) But a sound engineer appeared with a portable computer gizmo and that was soon rectified. The entire orchestra and chorus were extensively miked. The result was an excellent balance of live sound to dialogue... It might seem this vitiated the point of a live acoustical orchestral performance, but obviously the folks on the lawn would have otherwise heard nothing, and I am not sure if much of the miked sound was piped into the auditorium actually. I certainly noticed no time delays between instrumentalists's motions and actual sound. It certainly sounded like a direct instrument to ear sound! 

But as to the heart of the matter: We marvelled as the evening wore on at the precision, professionalism, inspiration, and genuine musicianship of the complex forces massed before us. I can assure you that not a cue was missed (as we could see the monitor in front of Maestro Wicki), not an expressive moment or dynamic crescendo lost. This despite the lights on the score desks of the lead string section intermittently going out early in the second half ! This was eventually fixed thanks to a discreet engineer crawling about to check for the faulty connection. But nary a beat was lost by this fellowship... and the balance, intonation and timing of the orchestra was superb; M. Wicki proved to be an inspired and thoroughly expert master of the score and his forces, so the playing was spot on technically and emotionally. One often simply felt one was hearing the score as one had heard it as recorded in theaters and at home... The volume levels were just right, the climaxes fully met and the quiet moments sublime, the text in Tolkien's various languages clearly, movingly and precisely sung. The soloists, soprano Kaitlyn Lusk, "May It Be", and boy soprano Nelson Reed, "When the Cold of Winter Blows" (who by some unfortunate oversight was not listed in the program!) were more than up to the task and gave us inspired performances to equal those in the original film, but with the refreshing newness of another artist's rendition.

And all this was accomplished in a matter of only 2 or 3 weeks of rehearsal! Obviously, as this was the very first event of the Wolf Trap season, announced only 4 or 5 weeks earlier, the performance had been hastily inserted in the season to be able to happen at all. I am sure this inevitable lack of publicity accounts (plus the cool evening with rain threatening all day) for the fact that I estimate only 60% of the seats and lawn were filled. One can only hope that this will not dampen the guts and enthusiasm of the impresarios and promoters of these film/concerts to schedule more. And one can only surmize that this performance, accomplished so flawlessly and enthusiastically (with only one other scheduled the next day), will be the first of many and that there must be plans to do this more often in the future (perhaps with these very forces going on tour...?). One certainly hopes so! And what a magnificent way to acquaint classical music audiences with the book and the film, and not-so-classical music audiences with a stunning full orchestral original score, and thus introduce them to one most recent example of the glories of classical music. One can imagine just such a Tolkien/PJ/ Shore "Ring" in our Central Park for example! 

This is adds a whole new dimension to classical music multi-media... In line with recent HD live broadcasts of operas from around the country in theaters, this combination of the precision and inspiration of live orchestral sound and superb visuals is perhaps a major step forward in presenting great works of music and attracting new and bigger audiences of all ages and backgrounds. This kind of venue and across the board multi-media (= "gesamtkunstwerk") approach promises to be as significant an innovation as was Wagner's astounding 19th century festival theater at Bayreuth Bavaria (where "that other Ring Cycle" is presented), which often came to mind as I listened and watched. This performance surely was a worthy and superb herald of events to come! Let us hope so, as venue, artists and technicians combined to make this, in Bilbo's words from the film, indeed: "...this will be a night to remember..." 

As our little band left for home, we only regretted we could not stay on for the second performance the next day!

This one was found on Yelp.com, a reviews-by-the-people site:

Thursday evening, I went to see the premiere of "The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring" at Wolf Trap. When I say premiere - I mean this is the first time the movie has been shown in Digital High Definition - with a live orchestral score - from the Wolf Trap web site:

"...a multimedia spectacular featuring the sweeping cinematography and stirring dialog of Peter Jackson's epic movie combined with a live performance of Howard Shore's award-winning orchestral score.

Filene Center Orchestra, under the direction of Ludwig Wicki, with the City Choir of Washington and the World Children's Choir will present the American Premiere of Shore's entire 3-hour score to The Fellowship of the Ring live to the projected film in high definition."

We had seats in the Orchestra section - row M - almost dead center - about 12-13 rows back from the stage. There was a massive HD screen lowered above the stage - the Orchestra could be seen beneath the screen. There was a second, smaller screen for the folks on the lawn.

When the movie ended and the credits started to roll - the Orchestra continued to play - no one got up to leave. Then the Soloist - this devastatingly beautiful young lady in a long flowing, floor length dress - with an equally beautiful voice to match - sang "May it Be" by Enya - from the soundtrack, then a young boy sang a song after that from the soundtrack. I love the song "May it Be." It gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it. She knocked the song out of the Filene Center - I was under her Elvish spell - I had tears streaming down my cheeks.

The audience stood up and gave the Orchestra a standing ovation - for at least 10 minutes - everyone just kept clapping and smiling - I think everyone was blown away by what they had just experienced.

I've never experienced sound like that in my life - it totally blew away even the most high-end, advanced surround sound system. The Orchestra, the Chorus, the Soloists - well, it was just amazing - and worth every penny we paid! My friend Jamie and I agreed - this was the most amazing movie experience of our lives!

This was the extended version of the movie - so about 3 hours and some odd minutes, with one brief intermission.

I sure hope they repeat this experience with "The Two Towers" and "The Return of the King!"


On Thursday May 22nd my family, a friend, and I headed to Vienna, Virginia for the FOTR live performance. We got there quite early and very much enjoyed the park there. I'd recommend going to other concerts there...it was a really pleasant atmosphere. We took a picnic supper and ate at a picnic table with a view of a grassy valley in front of us. That was great. But the real fun hadn't started yet. We made our way to a spot on the lawn a little left of the screen. Next came the pre-concert talk with Deb Lamberton (from WETA radio station...we thought that was funny!). Although most of the information given I already knew, it was still great. She actually did some trivia on LOTR, which was fun. The weather for the concert was fine. Cold, but not rainy, so that was a plus. It was really neat to see Ludwig Wicki conduct, since I've been hearing about him doing it in Lucerne and Winnipeg. He did a phenomenal job, doing very well with the tak es. To tell the truth, it was really hard to believe I was really seeing the score performed live. It sounded so close to the original, and I think because we were far enough away from the orchestra and choir it kind of didn't capture me as much as I thought it would. That is not to say that it wasn't absolutely awesome. The soloist parts were probably some of my favorites. Kaitlyn Lusk was amazing. It was cool to hear her "change voices" from Rivendell to Lothlorien, etc. When she sang at the spot where Gandalf falls, she was wonderful. I was a little worried that she might have trouble with the one really high note that gets held forever, but she nailed it. I'd love to hear her do it again...it was breathtaking. It was especially enjoyable to watch and listen to her because of the blog entry she did on the site. The choirs were great as well, with the Moria sequence especially strong. Although, the other pa rts were extremely well done (Black Riders, Rivendell, Lothlorien, etc). The fiddle part in Hobbiton was very great, while the penny whistle didn't really live up to my expectations (It could have been because of the instrument though). The dialogue was at a perfect volume and the HD was superb! It was so cool to see the film so big and in such good quality. The people there were very friendly. One highlight of the performance was, really, just being with thousands of other LOTR fans and cheering along with them. The lady next to us shared her blanket with us for our cold legs and feet :-). It would have been great to see other bloggers there, but there's always The Two Towers. I would definitely encourage anyone to go next year, it was awesome! ***** (Five stars :-D) 

Here are a couple of reviews from a Viggo Mortensen fansite. First from Caria:

I haven't had a chance to post anything on this thread for a looong time. But I'm excited to say that this past Wednesday - May 21 - I had the amazing opportunity to attend (with my whole family) the US premeiere of Howard Shore's complete score of the Fellowship of the Ring performed live in perfect sync with the movie in HD. The performance took place at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia. It was conducted by Ludwig Wicki - the same conductor who led the 21st Century Orchestra for the World Premiere of FOTR at the Lucerne Concert Hall earlier this year. 

At the Wolf Trap performance of Wednesday, he conducted the Filene Center Orchestra; the performance also included the City Choir of Washington and the World Children's Choir, with a stand-out performance by vocal soloist Kaitlyn Lusk (who also has been the featured vocal soloist in Howard Shore's LOTR Symphony).

The weather was chilly, but the hundreds in attendance didn't mind one bit. We were all transported by the majesty of the music performed live, accompanying the huge screens that were showing the movie in high def. There was a huge screen for those of us on the lawn as well as a huge screen for those seated inside the open air pavilion. The majesty of the music, the glorious themes, the perfect solos - all were an excellent compliment to the wide sweep of the epic tale that was being played out on the screens. Heaven come down to earth!!!!

Even though I've watched FOTR countless times (both threatrical and extended versions) it felt for me like I was seeing the movie for the first time all over again.....The choirs and Lusk performed the various languages of Tolkien's world flawlessly and in a way that sent shivers up my spine!! The audience was very appreciative and responded with loud and extended applause at the intermission (just after the forming of the Fellowship in Rivendell) and at the movie's end. During the movie, however, there was an almost reverential silence in the audience as we were all being transported to another time and place. ( The reverential silence during the movie was broken only by occasional chuckling at the antics of Merry and Pippin, and by an enthusiastic "YES!!!" from someone in the crowd followed by cheers and applause when Aragorn lopped the head off Lurtz toward the movie's end.)

The review in the Washington Post was glowing as well. The live score was performed for two evenings at Wolf Trap. I have no idea where the performance may be going next, but I highly recommend attending it if it comes anywhere near any of you!!!!!

Still walking on air......Caria

...and Lindariel:

My wonderful husband set up a surprise "date" for us last night. He made all of the arrangements in advance, including child care. I was only given an idea about appropriate dress for the outing and when we needed to leave. You can imagine how completely floored and delighted I was when it turned out he had acquired prime viewing seats for the showing of FOTR at Wolf Trap, with the score performed live by the Wolf Trap Symphony conducted by Ludwig Wicki, The City Choir of Washington, The World Children's Choir, and soloists Kaitlyn Lusk and a wonderful boy soprano (probably from The World Children's Choir) who was unfortunately not identified in the program.

It was an absolutely incredible experience. The film was projected with subtitles so the conductor did not have to worry about whether the orchestra was overwhelming the dialogue. The point of the evening was to experience the film primarily through the music. WOW! The live music was so much more intense and vibrant than the typically overamped sound we hear in the movie theatre. It was possible to appreciate even more the extraordinary musical subtleties and the incredible timing and symphonic development of the piece.

I have sent scans of the Program Notes to Riv Res so she can upload them for your review. Included are descriptions of all of the various themes Howard Shore developed and associated with various places, people, races, items, etc. The Ring in particular has three musical themes all to itself!

From the audience reaction, you would almost believe these folks had never seen FOTR before, although the vast majority obviously were huge fans. It was quite clear that they were experiencing the film in an entirely new way, and there were many gasps of surprise and shock as they reacted to the immediacy of the music combined with the intensity of the visuals on screen. Mr. L liked the films well enough, but was not a die-hard enthusiast like me. Nonetheless, he thoroughly enjoyed the evening and commented on a number of things that he hadn’t noticed from previous viewings, both musically and dramatically. Both of us really wished that the performance had not been on a school night, because 11-year-old Miss L would have absolutely adored it.

This was the U.S. premiere for this kind of film/concert experience, and I heartily encourage all of you to keep your eyes and ears peeled for announcements about performances in your area. You will not be disappointed! Mr. L and I are already hoping that they will repeat this exercise with The Two Towers and Return of the King. We will certainly be there!

Read Lynne Price's thoughts here.

Read Kathryn Tidyman's thoughts here.

Any additional reviews? Send them 
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