Since the November 2003 debut of “The Lord of the Rings Symphony” in New Zealand, the piece by film composer Howard Shore has gone on to achieve amazing success, especially in the context of the classical music world. Despite its popularity and comparisons to Wagner’s epic “Ring” cycle, some classical music buffs writhe at the mention of the symphony, citing music they see as too undistinguished and tedious to warrant its six movements over two hours.
Still, there is no disputing that many of the more than 100 worldwide performances of the piece — which is based on the music Shore composed for Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, and which showcases an orchestra that includes exotic instruments, adult and children’s choirs and several soloists — played to sold-out halls.
Welcome to the world of the modern blockbuster symphony. This piece’s success has set a precedent for other works by film composers and, yes, by composers of music for video games. In April 2004, the Los Angeles Philharmonic first performed Japanese composer Nobuo Uetmatsu’s “Dear Friends: Music from Final Fantasy,” with music from the video-game series. Nearly 11,000 people attended at the Hollywood Bowl. Since then, other orchestras have performed the piece or excerpts from it with similar success.
Now, the phenomenon is coming to an orchestra near you. After receiving sponsorship support from Papa John’s International Inc., the Louisville Orchestra announced in October that it plans to perform the piece on Jan. 19. Orchestra CEO Brad Broecker reports that 75 percent of tickets for that performance have sold, prompting the organization to add another performance the following evening, Jan. 20. (Tickets for the second show go on sale today.)
Broecker says these performances will fulfill two orchestra goals: to entertain and to make money. (Broecker also says the orchestra wants to perform other works with the same broad appeal.)
Moreover, late last week the orchestra learned that Charles Floyd will conduct the performances. Floyd first conducted the Buffalo Philharmonic in a performance of the symphony in July 2005, after being handpicked by Shore. (Shore has chosen only a handful of conductors to conduct the piece.) It was a thrilling experience for Floyd, who calls himself “a huge Tolkien fan.” He has read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” series and acts as a co-moderator on the site lordoftheringsguide.com.
Floyd is familiar to Louisville’s long-term performing arts audiences: between 1982 and 1984, he played piano as a soloist with Louisville Orchestra while he was a master’s student at the University of Louisville School of Music; from 1983-84, he was the pianist for the Louisville Ballet’s tribute performance to George Balanchine; in 2004, he conducted a Louisville Orchestra Martin Luther King Jr. Day concert, which included choruses.
During the early 1990s, Floyd went on to distinguish himself in the popular music world, notably in work with Natalie Cole, including the production of the Grammy Award-winning album Unforgettable, With Love, the singer’s tribute to her father, Nat King Cole. In 2005, he was assistant music director to film composer John Debney in the world premiere performance of music from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” in Rome.
Meanwhile Floyd has maintained his personal and professional relationships in Louisville. He says that not long after he heard about Louisville Orchestra’s plans to perform the symphony, he let Shore know he was available and interested in conducting.
Both Floyd and Broecker see the performance as a way to introduce the orchestra to new audiences and entice them to attend other classical music concerts.
“You never know whose life will be transformed,” Floyd adds.
Tickets are available at 584-7777 or www.louisvilleorchestra.org.
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