‘Lord of the Ring’ Music Wizard to Work Magic at Radio City

Howard Shore
Howard Shore, Academy Award-winning composer of the film trilogy ``The Lord of the Rings." Shore has arranged the scores of all three films to be played by a live orchestra and chorus during screenings. Photographer: Benjamin Ealovega/Keith Sherman & Associates via Bloomberg

When Elijah Wood’s face fills the 60-foot Radio City Music Hall screen in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” you’ll be able to enjoy his pretty pores, dimples and hair follicles in all their award-winning glory. You’ll be able to savor an even more remarkable phenomenon too. Three hundred live musicians will be blowing, plucking and singing underneath him.

The event is part of a long-term project to screen the three films of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy with composer Howard Shore’s score played live. All three have been performed to sell-out success in London, and now the second film comes to New York in this new format.

I meet up with Shore, 63, in the U.K. capital to ask about the project in the middle of a busy period of celebrations for him. Shore was just in from Vienna, where he had received the Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award, and was in Britain to help promote Doug Adams’s new book about his work, “The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films.”

Sporting a soft brown suit and with a quiet, friendly manner, the Canadian Shore appears more like an avuncular Ivy League professor than a man who has won three Academy Awards and who works with Hollywood’s glitziest stars.

‘Visceral Feel’

Is it a different experience, even for him, seeing the film with a live orchestra? “I’d already arranged a six-movement symphony from the score from the whole trilogy, so I knew the music in a concert-hall format,” he says. “Then the idea arose to perform the full scores live to screen.

“When I first watched it in that way, I thought the music had never sounded so vibrant or so full of colors. The visceral feel of the power of the orchestra, chorus and children’s chorus made a huge impact.”

The score and orchestral parts originally had been printed in short sections, as only five to six minutes of film music were recorded in one day. It took around nine months of archival work on each film for Shore to reconstruct and re-edit the music for live film performance.

It must be a logistical challenge for the conductor, Ludwig Wicki, I suggest. “Yes, Ludwig is musically and technically brilliant,” Shore says. “He has done all the performances so far.”

How does he do it? “He has a small monitor in front of his score on the podium that gives him a special color-coded visualization of the musical entries. It’s actually a computerized version of the same method that was used in the 1930s, when they used grease pencil marks on the celluloid. They called them ‘pops and streamers’ then.”

Lang Lang Concerto

Shore proves to be a reflective interviewee, and becomes even more thoughtful when I ask if a film composer has to have a speedier level of invention than his concert-music counterpart. “Time is such a relative thing,” he says after a pause. “I just spent a year writing a piano concerto for Lang Lang. Is that a long time? Some concertos have been written much quicker.

“Tolkien took 14 years to write ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ What is time? What is speed? I guess the answer for a film composer, is that it helps to be able to create things without getting too bogged down in self doubt.”

Shore’s opera “The Fly,” based on the 1986 David Cronenberg film, had its premiere in Paris in 2008 to mixed reviews. Are there any similarities between film and opera? “Yes,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot by going to the Met for 30 years. I studied operas to understand how stories could be told through music. The relationship of pit to stage is analogous with that of music and screen.”

Creating a Forest

“The Two Towers” has grossed $925 million since its release in 2002. How does Shore spend his presumably lofty fees from all those cigar-chomping Hollywood moguls he works for? “I save some, and I also have a 10-acre forest outside New York which I’m landscaping. I like to live in an environment I’m actively creating. I feel I write better music that way. It’s my greatest expense.”

Are his Oscars nice and safe back home? “They’re in my studio,” he says. All lined up, I ask? A smile flickers across his face. “Oh yes, they’re keeping each other warm.”

“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” will be performed at Radio City Music Hall, New York, this evening and tomorrow, with the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra, soprano Kaitlyn Lusk, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and the Dessoff Symphonic Choir, conducted by Ludwig Wicki. Information: http://www.radiocity.com or 1-866-858-0008 and http://www.howardshore.com.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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