June 9, 2014

Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers presented by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – A Review

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Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers presented by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra – A Review

I attended this concert with a friend, whom I encouraged to contribute a review as a guest writer as well. Her review is shown below mine. 

Sheep is excited to attend his first movie screening with live orchestra!
He was also hoping to see sheep in the movie because it was filmed
in New Zealand.. 

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers
Metropolitan Festival Orchestra, Vocal Associates Festival Chorus and Children’s Choir, Justin Freer, conductor
The Star Performing Arts Centre/ Saturday, 1pm, 7 June 2014

Although nothing compared to Richard Wagner’s 4-opera, 17-hour-long Der Ring des Niebelungen, attempting to perform the trilogy was still quite a feat, especially having to synchronise live music to a film. It was fitting that Howard Shore wrote for almost Mahlerian forces (over 250 musicians in the orchestra, choir and children’s’ choir combined) and about 9 hours’ worth of music with interlocking themes and motifs for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I hesitate to use the term accompany here because the OST is, in my opinion, much more than mere accompaniment — it sets the scenes, conveys emotions, and, in the case of LOTR, is probably as important as the spoken dialogue. Even then, wouldn’t the recorded film music do? After all, it was recorded by none less than the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and movie tickets are much cheaper…

Perhaps this was the point that director Chan Tze Law and Metropolitan Festival Orchestra were trying to prove in staging the screening of the LOTR trilogy with live performance of the soundtrack, so as to increase the awareness of the role of film music. They were joined by the Vocal Associates Festival Chorus and children’s choir, prepared by Khor Ai Ming. The Two Towers continues from where the Fellowship of the Ring, which was staged around this time last year, left off. The 5000-seater venue was slightly over half filled for the matinee show, but because of the sheer size of the hall and for balance of sound, microphones were placed at every desk of the orchestra. Immediately that amplifies (no pun intended!) the problems faced — even if the musicians played and sung their best, the ones responsible for sound were still those sitting behind the sound console.

The mix was often erratic and inconsistent; although woodwinds and were brasses sufficiently loud, the strings, especially the lower strings, were often overpowered by the other sounds in the first half. When the spotlight was turned on them, however, they projected a luscious sound and conjured up the imagery of the scenes well. In fact, the same can be said for the entire orchestra: the versatility in their sound was impressive, notably that of the horns. From the heartfelt, tender and lyrical to the menacing and sinister, they were together in setting the atmosphere for the action onscreen. Particularly noteworthy also, were the poignant and melancholic English horn solos by Veda Lin.

Despite not having a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle for the Rohan solos, concertmaster Chan Yoong Han used the higher strings of the violin to successfully recreate the rustic timbre. Also cleverly substituted was a yangqin for a dulcimer. A distressed piano was another interesting instrument featured, where the strings of the piano were struck with metal chains.

The chorus was mostly out-of-tune when singing in parts, but when singing in unison, especially at the final scenes of the battle at Helms Deep, they exuded majesty and strength. Soprano Rosalind Waters was a let-down. In the Rivendell scenes, laments and final Gollum’s song, her intonation was unstable, and her voice lacked the character or the ethereal, other-worldly quality required. The added reverb to enhance her voice only made the quivers in her voice more obvious. Boy soprano Samuel Yuen was delight to listen to. From where we were seated in the stalls, he stood up to the height of a seated orchestra member, and even with the spotlight on him, he remained hidden from our sight. His voice soared beautifully above the choir with absolute purity of tone. Maybe what he really needed, in Legolas’ words, was a box to stand on!

If the exciting final instalment in future is a success, why not do the Star Wars series next? 🙂

At lunch before the concert. The press kit came with a
beautiful blue MFO pen!

—-

Tessa and I after the concert

Review written by Tessa Khew, a Tolkien fan, English Literature graduate and teacher:

The Partial Plebian LOTR Concert Review

I attended the Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers Orchestra Concert by the Metropolitian Festival Orchestra in the capacity of one wedged between the statuses of regular concert-goer and reviewer. I know my penultimate sentence is marked with loaded terms that can echo the endless debate on what makes a reviewer and whatnot, but let’s reserve that can of worms for other platforms. My in-between status stemmed from the fact that my foremost intention was to enjoy the film with an added performance dimension but 6 years of MEP education had ingrained in me an instinct to view the concert as a musical endeavour too.

In all honesty, what struck me first upon entering The Star’s Performing Arts Centre was the sheer number of musicians and instruments on stage. This surprise was in part due to the 7 year gap between the present and my last attendance at an orchestral performance, yet it was a timely reminder of how much work goes behind producing an OST. Another aspect that surprised me was how little rest the musicians had as the movie progressed. There was nary a still moment on stage; even the seemingly quieter parts of the movie were bolstered by controlled, soft tremolos from the strings. I’d dare say the effort at producing an OST is no less than the producing the theatrics of the movie, and it is a pity that the accompanying music is often overlooked. Raising such an awareness is perhaps one of the best takeaways from such concerts, for by extension it may lead to an increased recognition for musicians and their craft.

The film commenced in perfect sync with the orchestra’s rendition of the opening theme and much credit must be given to the efforts at replicating the original film experience. For one, a Chinese instrument, the Yang Qin, was roped in to support the percussion section as it drummed up the battle atmospheres. The concert master utilized open strings and more distinct bow strokes to bring to life the Norwegian fiddle’s role in introducing picturesque Rohan. Samuel Yuen’s return to his role as the boy soprano was an A+ textbook performance. The ethereal tone of his voice resonated as it pitched, perfectly, one note after another, perhaps a testament of the many times he practiced to the original sound track. Such attention to detail led to an easy viewing of The Two Towers in which I found myself forgetting I was not in a cinema. Suffice to say, concerts such as these would be good introductory sessions for newcomers to orchestral music.

However, considering such concerts from the viewpoint of one who has experience with music would yield a different conclusion. If even my amateur ears could be unsettled by the off pitch harmonies by the chorale in its opening lines, I’m sure the alliance of Legolas’ and Aragorn’s beauty combined would not be enough to keep the attention of a more seasoned individual at that moment. Another incident that would have distracted such an individual was Rosalind Waters’ solo performance. Water’s vocal timbre was rich but with a rough edge that would have nailed a Broadway role. It was unfortunate that such a style was misaligned with the clear resonance that this role called for, and the mismatch was most pronounced during the closing item where the enunciation of the lyrics left much to be hoped for. Yet all these might only be of concern to one whose instincts naturally divert their ears from Tolkein’s rich poetic dialogue at the presence of music.

Nevertheless, I can safely say that I left this concert with a rekindled passion in orchestral music and certainly feeling that I got my money’s worth from watching both film and performance. I am hoping the Metropolitian Festival Orchestra persists with such style of concerts and enliven the film appreciation and classical music awareness in Singapore.

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