By Martin Dunphy, November 29, 2010
This is the time of year when the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presents a goodly number of “specials” concerts, events designed to bring in less traditional audiences.
From the songs of ABBA to the themes from video games, these offerings will help atypical symphony audiences gain entertaining and valuable exposure to musical expressions that might otherwise remain inaccessible.
It’s smart marketing, good public relations, educational, provides work for our excellent local musicians, and, perhaps most importantly, helps the VSO’s bottom line.
It also helps break down the perceived snobbery barrier—real or not—that shields most symphonic presentations.
This past weekend (November 27 and 28) saw performances of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings Symphony. Your agent attended, as the guest of a 10-year-old boy, and was interested—as one half of a confirmed LOTR nerd pairing—in observing the makeup and behaviour of the crowd as compared to your run-of-the-mill symphony attendees.
There were definitely fewer people sporting formal or semiformal wear, but no dress-up hobbits, orcs, or sword-wielding heroes were to be seen. There was a much higher percentage of younger faces overall, and more than a few young boys—perhaps the wizard-loving offspring of VSO season subscribers—crammed uncomfortably into dark-coloured suits with ties.
Those expecting boorish or nerdish behaviour in the lineup outside the sold-out Orpheum had to content themselves with the unholy spectacle of two couples chugging canned power drinks before surrendering their tickets, perhaps to enhance their jittery pre-performance apprehension.
During the execution of Shore’s masterwork—six movements performed by orchestra, chorus, and soloists—the Tolkien devotees and movie fans seemed positively, well, spellbound. Regular concertgoers might be advised to learn something from their behaviour: no ringtones, almost zero throat-clearing and coughing, chatter held to a minimum, and no crinkling of candy wrappers.
The performance itself was glorious, with a full orchestra and at least 100 voices from the Vancouver Bach Choir and its children's chorus regaling ears with the surprisingly emotion-tugging composition distilled and assembled from Shore’s 12-hour score for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The symphony’s periodic familiar and reedy Celtic tin-whistle melody, gently and wistfully emblematic of the Shire, seemed to captivate listeners more than any other reprised sections, and its soloist was singled out for special attention. The dissonant percussion of the orc armies, the noble strains exhorting the riders of Rohan, and the reflective, pitiable expression of Gollum’s lament flowed seamlessly with the visual counterpoint of projected artworks depicting characters and scenes from Tolkien’s tomes.
Audience inexperience reared its head with some untimely clapping and the ultra-enthusiastic ovation prior to the intermission—clearly, more than a few were under the impression that the concert had ended after only two movements and some of the more familiar airs from the screen soundtrack.
Overall, though, it would be hard to imagine a more thoughtful and enraptured audience. So what if the coda was preempted by vigorous, if misplaced, applause? It was in spontaneous response to soloist Kaitlyn Lusk’s splendid rendering of “Into the West” and was taken up be a few hundred pairs of hands before petering out as conductor Markus Huber soldiered on.
The actual finale was followed by extended, appreciative applause, nothing mechanical, and with few of Vancouver’s usual “let’s get ’em off their feet” standing-o disciples.
One bad-tempered dowager-in-waiting—while exiting the middle lower balcony and, no doubt, referring to the faux pas at the finish—actually loudly proclaimed to her companion: “They should have stayed home in their parents’ basements!”
A better line couldn’t have been written for TV’s Crane brothers, Frasier and Niles.
But take heart, Lord of the Rings geeks. She was definitely in the minority that night.
And we were two inexperienced nerds who had a simply wonderful evening.
We’ll be back.