The Lord of the Rings: Ravinia

Tonight’s concert was an intricate blend of fantastic filmography and outstanding music teaming up to present The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring music score, live at Ravinia. Conducted by Ludwig Wicki, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the singers have truly outdone themselves to show us that the music is what carries the weight and convictions of a movie, adding many more layers to Peter Jackson’s rendition of Tolkien’s epic adventure.

I have no idea how many times Howard Shore, the composer of the music for The Lord of the Rings, has read the actual trilogy, but regardless, he shows a tremendous understanding for not only the themes and motifs of the story, but also for each character. He captures each characters’ and countries’ personality within the music, including the Ring, which almost comes alive and has a mind of its own as it ‘breathes’ with the rise and fall of the tune. The Ring also seduces those around it with a haunting melody, which is surprisingly similar to the Elves’ theme, but of course it’s much more sinister with the added rumbling of the drums. The Elves’ theme, in contrast, is based purely on the strings, and is much more fantastical and mysterious in effect.

Since The Lord of the Rings is very much a suspense, adventure-action movie full of epic scenes, of course there has to be a lot of ominous latin chanting included with the music. The only difference is that the chanting is usually done in one of Tolkien’s made-up languages. For example, the theme music for Moria has Dwarvish chanting in it, especially when danger (in the form of Balrog) approaches the fellowship. This was provided by the Lakeside Singers, the Chicago Chorale and the Chicago Children’s Choir. Of course, they didn’t chant all the time – sometimes it was just humming a suspenseful tune, and other times they supported Kaitlyn Lusk or Henry Griffin in the background. But what beautiful voices! Even though sometimes Griffin or the Children’s Choir would go a little out of tune, that purity and clarity of timbre can’t be found in an adult’s voice. Even Lusk’s voice carried a softness to its tone that one could only describe it as angelic, or perhaps elvish, which would be more appropriate in this context.

The free program book offered by Ravinia had a lot more to say about the musical themes and how they related to one another and drove the plot forwards. For instance, Doug Adams writes that “the [hobbits’] theme doesn’t appear until the film reveals Hobbiton…the bravery inherent in this theme develops because it represents the most simple and unheroic aspects of hobbit life – food and drink, comfort and community – yet the hobbit of the Fellowship persevere despite their basic nature. The melody serves a crucial purpose…it establishes a sense of home, a regular and safe way of life that is threatened by Sauron and the Ring.” And as I listened to the music, I could really see how this theme only pops up when Sam’s true friendship with Frodo is displayed, or when an act of courage has just been performed.

There were many, many more moments I could go on and on about, but hopefully you’ll get to hear it and judge it for yourself. It was an absolutely wonderful experience, and it made me look at the movie in an entirely different way. Granted, the dialogue, the action, and the couple making out in front of me every five minutes would sometimes distract me from listening to the music, but something familiar in the melody would pop up, and I’d go back to marvelling at how amazingly well-woven and well-written one movie can be. For those who have free time tomorrow night and happen to be around the area, don’t miss this amazing opportunity to hear and experience something truly magical!

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