Sunday, October 16, 2011

Ongoing Discussion [October 2011]

When I signed on to The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films, I expected it to be a highly exciting, entirely behind-the-scenes type of job. Taking the stage, and sitting in on TV news and talk shows was never part of the plan. But "best laid plans" and all that ...

The last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of planes, trains, and rental cars. I don't know if my crash courses in everything from vocal modulation to remedial TV blocking have paid off in any great way, but they were certainly fascinating.

I'm glad Of Rings and Myths came right in the middle of the madness, since it was a wonderful change of pace. My deep gratitude to the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra for their dedication and musical sensitivity, and to J.R. Cassidy for his creativity, musicianship, and for issuing the invitation in the first place. I'm never one to put too much stock in reviews, but since I technically never got to experience this performance from the outside, these outside views were most welcome ... and most kind.

Cincinnati.com wrote:

" ... [A] one-of-a-kind program ...

The KSO’s “Of Rings and Myths” was part performance, part academic lecture on comparing and contrasting two epic tales about powerful rings. The orchestra, under the direction of conductor James Cassidy, alternated between selections from Howard Shore’s score to the film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Rings” series and Richard Wagner’s “Ring” opera cycle.


What made the concert different was what took place between the selections. Doug Adams, the author of the 2010 book “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films,” was what you might call the star of the show.

Introducing each musical excerpt, Adams explained what the audience would hear – what Wagner and Shore intended to accomplish in the way they used rhythm and strings and brass, and how the two composers created musical moods relating to themes such as love, death, heroism and conflict.


Adams knew what he was talking about, but it was just as rewarding to let the orchestra perform, and some of the best moments of the two-hour performance were those when the band played, uninterrupted, for five minutes or so. Accompanying the orchestra were three featured vocalists: sopranos Jennifer Cherest and Kara Shay Thomson and tenor Ric Furman; and the KSO Chorale – which was charged with such tasks as singing certain songs in tongues native to Middle-earth.

The finest vocal performances occurred during the Wagner pieces. Furman and Thomson shined during the excerpt of “Brunnhildle the Valkyrie and Siegfried’s Heroism,” where Thomson’s Brunnhildle tries to dissuade Furman’s Siegfried from falling in love with her."

MusicInCincinnati.com wrote:

"If Richard Wagner were alive today?

No doubt about it, he would be making movies. His idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “complete art work,” uniting word, music, drama, visual art, etc. has come true in the realm of cinema.

How natural, then, that James R. Cassidy, innovative, “can do,” music director of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, would find a link with Wagner in film-making. And not just a philosophical one. Music for films has long been where classical music “went” when audiences began abandoning contemporary art music.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” published in the 1954-55, draws from the same wellspring of North European mythology as Wagner’s four-opera “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”). Director Peter Jackson made Tolkien’s novel into the tremendously popular “Lord of the Rings” films in 2001-03. Hugely successful along with them was the musical score by Howard Shore.

The KSO, KSO Chorale and three superlative vocal soloists joined with “Lord of the Rings” expert Doug Adams to compare and contrast Shore and Wagner Saturday night in Florence Baptist Church at Mt. Zion (Florence, Kentucky). Adams, a Chicago based musician and writer, author of “Music of the Lord of the Rings Films,” provided narration for the concert, which comprised excerpts from both composers’ music and a comparison of the two “Ring” tales (Wagner wrote both the words and music for his four operas). It was a giant-sized task, 15 hours of opera and 11 hours of film score condensed into 92 minutes of music, but accomplished with considerable success.


... [T]he program, written by Adams, was meticulously planned and well presented. Adams' narration was pointed, intelligent and well keyed to the music (though familiarity with the two "Rings" was definitely an advantage). The 72-member KSO performed admirably, with strength in all sections, give or take a fumble or two now and then (notably by brass and percussion). Concertmistress Manami White gave just the right Celtic lift to her solo in “Concerning Hobbits,” Shore’s charming evocation of the Shire. And the trumpets, which definitely could be heard, were resplendent in such excerpts as Wagner’s “Entry of the Gods into Valhalla.”

Best of all were the singers, sopranos Kara Shay Thomson and Jennifer Cherest and tenor Ric Furman. Cherest possesses a beautiful but lighter voice, while Thomson and Furman seemed eminently capable of walking off the stage into a production of Wagner’s “Ring” at any time.

Although the “Ring” stories were told concurrently, the first half was primarily Shore's music. A comparison was drawn between the “Forging Theme” from Wagner’s “Das Rheingold” (with anvils) and Shore’s metal-heavy depiction of the industrial wasteland of Isengard. Similarly, Adams contrasted the birdsong motif from Wagner’s “Siegfried” and “Nature’s Reclamation” from Shore’s “Two Towers.” The Chorale, which sang Tolkien’s languages (Dwarves, Elves, etc.), gave vicious voice to the Orcs in their 5/4 rampage. Soprano Cherest displayed a voice of crystal clarity in excerpts from “Return of the King.”

The second half focused on Wagner. Adams contrasted the ringwraiths from “Fellowship of the Ring” with Wagner’s “Valkyries,” the latter given splendid voice by Thompson backed by Cherest in their famous “Ride.” Also heard were Wagner’s “Magic Fire Music,” “Forest Murmurs” and the battle of Siegfried and the dragon Fafner from “Siegfried.” Cherest and the Chorale lit up “The Grace of Undómiel” from “Return of the King” (Shore), which made a nice contrast with the love story of Wagner’s Siegfried and Brunnhilde. Furman, who looks, acts and sounds like a Siegfried of the future, sang Wagner’s hero with heft and beauty, yielding nothing to Thompson’s formidable Brunnhilde, and leaving one wishing to hear more from him."

Of course, leave it to the message boards to offer the pithiest -- and maybe most genuine -- comments. One poster at FilmScoreMonthly.com offered:

"The KSO did a great job, and Doug Adams narrated the evening in an eloquent and efficient manner that tempts me to call him "film music's David Hyde Pierce" from now on. But I won't.


I enjoyed the mix of people that came to this, it would be terrific to have more events like this one that bring different audiences together."

I have to admit, I got a good chuckle out of that one! All in all, the program was received exactly as I'd hoped it would be. There's so much incredible music in the performance, it almost can't help but be uniquely satisfying. I expect we'll have a chance to do this show again sometime soon!

As soon as Rings and Myths was over, I was back on the road for a press tour. In the space of just over two weeks, I managed to see Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Florence, KY; Cincinnati, OH; Dallas, TX (layover); Portland, OR, Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA; Oakland, CA; and San Jose, CA. I'm sure those who travel for business on a weekly/daily basis are scoffing at my pusillanimity here, but that's a tall order of planes, trains, and rental cars as far as I'm concerned! And a press tour is not exactly a cakewalk -- just ask poor Harry Belafonte! There are a lot of early mornings and tight schedules. I mean, it's not digging ditches, but you do have to stay on your toes while constantly in motion.

I'm glad this was all able to come together, of course. My own goofy schedule almost prevented me from making the rounds, so I'm very thankful to all the producers and publicists that stuck with me while I tried to iron out early October.

And I certainly hope we help spread the word! Shore's Lord of the Rings in Concert performances are amazing. I know I'm likely preaching to the choir here -- literally in some cases -- but these shows are not to be missed. They're so difficult to describe. It's like an evening theater, a symphonic performance, and a premiere screening of a film all tossed together. Of course, it's not exactly any of those things, but maybe that's why it's so special. I hope my soundbite descriptions in the media have done some justice. I always leave feeling like I should have been just a bit more articulate, but I think everyone feels like that.

If you care to judge for yourself, you can see and hear a good bit of the resultant press below. Beware, my comments are redundant since I'm essentially pitching the show anew to each city. But if you want to watch me get slightly tireder upon each appearance, feast your senses!


- 7Live

- KGO TV (video)

- Celluloid Dreams Radio (mp3 download)

 - KMJ Radio (mp3 download)

There's certainly more material to air -- I hit a ton of outlets -- but I'm not sure how much of will be directed toward the internet. Still, if you haven't yet slaked your thirst for media, I'm told there's more to come, so I'll keep adding to this post and announcing via Twitter and Facebook.

I'm fairly comfortable with the press appearances at this point. And I've been lucky: I haven't had to deal with anyone that seemed disinterested in either the concerts or the book. I know that's an interviewer's job, of course, because I used to dabble in that line of work. But that's also enabled me to recognize insincerity pretty quickly, so I was glad to be working with such great people.

That said, my passion is the work, not the promotion. And right now I'm only a few weeks away from the start of the next project. You may have heard a little about it. If not, I'll fill you in as soon as I'm able.

I couldn't be more excited ...

Back soon,

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