Arts & Culture

200 musicians recreate ‘Lord of the Rings’ score

Composer Howard Shore keeps his vision intact with “The Lord of the Rings in Concert: the Fellowship of the Ring.”
Composer Howard Shore keeps his vision intact with “The Lord of the Rings in Concert: the Fellowship of the Ring.” Invision/AP

When “The Lord of the Rings in Concert: the Fellowship of the Ring” comes to Red Hat Amphitheatre this weekend, it will be one of hundreds of performances worldwide of the multimedia spectacular. While a special music-free version of the 2001 film plays on a big screen, hundreds of musicians and vocalists perform the score live. At the same time, it will be a uniquely Raleigh experience. Rather than a touring orchestra, the concert relies on the North Carolina Symphony, the North Carolina Master Chorale and the Raleigh Boychoir to bring composer Howard Shore’s score to life.

The film dialog is meant to be audible, though there are subtitles in case the music overwhelms it – 200 musicians are playing, the composer says, which can summon a lot of sound.

“The orchestra and the chorus can play as if they were in a symphonic concert setting, so the audience can completely enjoy the music in a live performance,” Shore said in a recent phone interview. “We don’t try to recreate the film mix – we let the music play and have the dynamics it would require in a live setting.”

In addition to scoring “The Lord of the Rings” films, Shore’s credits include such films as “The Fly,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “The Hobbit.” A Canadian, he got his start working with Lorne Michaels and did a stint as musical director on “Saturday Night Live” in the late ’70s. (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd took his suggestion and named themselves The Blues Brothers.)

Shore spoke to The News & Observer about what goes into the preparation for such a multi-media event, how the “Lord of the Rings” symphonic concerts have evolved since 2004, and how he composed this music in the first place.

Q: When you’re working with an orchestra and chorus and conductor that you’ve never worked with previously, how do you ensure that everything fits your vision?

A: “The Lord of the Rings Symphony” and these projection concerts primarily use local orchestras and choruses and children’s choirs and it’s wonderful, actually, because it becomes very much of a community event. It involves a lot of musicians – there’s more than 200 musicians onstage. With children, there’s all their parents, so it easily involves 300 people locally that are part of the production.

We sent the music in advance. We work with a lot of amateur choirs, so they can learn the music well in advance. They sing in all the Tolkien languages – there are six different languages – so they have to learn the correct pronunciation to the text that they are going to sing. With the symphony orchestra, rehearsals start at the beginning of the week and they go right up to the performance.

Q: How much time do the choirs get to learn six new languages?

A: I would say three or four months.

Q: You started this in 2004, Can you take me through the evolution over the past 11 years?

A: (The first) was a piece called “The Lord of the Rings Symphony.” It was two hours. I conducted it many times and other conductors did as well. That was the beginning of the concerts in 2004. Then, in 2008, through the release of the complete recordings I redid the scores for concert performances with the film.

When I played “The Lord of the Rings Symphony,” it was done to stills and projections. Alan Lee and John Howe are two great Tolkien illustrators, and we used their pencil drawings. With these concerts, you’re actually playing the film on a very large screen in digital format and you’re having the orchestra and the chorus and the children’s chorus play the entire score as it was originally created.

Q: When you are composing, how do you know when you have struck upon the melody that will be its major theme?

A: These scores took almost four years to write. In the process of writing, I would collect the themes and motifs as I went. I was on a journey through this incredible world that Tolkien had created, and I had a very strong connection to the story and the love of nature, which the story is very much about. Through that connection, I was able to create his world in music – a mirror reflection of it, really – in my heart.

If you go

What: “The Lord of the Rings in Concert: The Fellowship of the Ring” featuring the North Carolina Symphony, the North Carolina Master Chorale and the Raleigh Boychoir performing the score to Tolkien film as the movie is projected. Shih-Hung Young conducts.

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday, Sept. 18-19

Where: Red Hat Amphitheatre, 500 South McDowell St., Raleigh

Tickets: $23.20-$63.20; available on or in person at The Duke Energy Center Box Office, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, or at the amphitheater on the day of the show, starting at 2 p.m.