'Ring' Score Gets An Epic Airing At Wolf Trap

Ludwig Wicki conducting a performance of the
Ludwig Wicki conducting a performance of the "Fellowship of the Ring" score. Wednesday at Wolf Trap, the Filene Center Orchestra did the honors. (By Priska Ketterer Luzern -- Wolf Trap)
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Friday, May 23, 2008

There's probably never been as ambitious a film score as Howard Shore's 10-hour epic for the "Lord of the Rings" series. While it's not quite a Wagnerian-scale "Ring," 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.

So it was worth it to brave the teeth-chattering temperatures on Wednesday night and head out to Wolf Trap to see "The Fellowship of the Ring" (the first film in the series) projected on huge overhead screens while the Filene Center Orchestra, the City Choir of Washington and the World Children's Choir performed the score live.

Technically, it came off brilliantly; unlike the muddy presentation of "The Wizard of Oz" two years ago, "Fellowship" was clear and detailed, with well-balanced sound and an orchestra that sounded extremely natural despite being amplified.

And for this listener, anyway, it was like seeing the film for the first time. "Lord of the Rings" is a full-blown epic by anyone's standards, and needs to be experienced on as gigantic a scale as possible; one orchestra seems barely enough. And putting the music front and center gives the film a driving bolt of narrative power (which, frankly, it badly needs) and provides depth to the special effects that crash relentlessly across the screen. Conductor Ludwig Wicki did a superb job of coordinating his enormous forces, and the choruses -- who had to sing in Tolkien-ish languages like Quenya and Sindarin -- performed with precision and style.

-- Stephen Brookes

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