I was present on Saturday night for a screening of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring at QPAC complete with dialogue and sound effects, but minus the music track, which was performed live by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and chorus.
I expected it to be thrilling, but I didn't really expect it to surprise me.
I didn't expect the performance to absolutely come to life the way it did. As the first soft notes played under Cate Blanchett's cautionary retelling of the history of the Rings, my smile widened and my heart beat a little faster. By the time the chorus exploded and I was being politely informed that the dark lord and cunning jeweller Sauron had forged a master ring, a tear somehow managed an escape route via my eyeball. Not because I saw Sauron commandingly towering over the fires of Mt Doom, but because his terrifying choral motif was being thrown at me at full force from a group of living breathing human beings in the same room as me, rather than from a soulless TV or cinema screen. It was like the terror of the dark lord was being forged not by the creativity of the author or filmmakers, but by the choir who was spewing this pure evil so vehemently in my direction, I felt like I needed a cold shower to cleanse myself of it.
Then, of course, there was the part of me that was so enchanted and delighted I just wanted to launch myself into the centre of the wall of sound to absorb more of it.
It was a sound that seemed infinitely more fulfilling and real than anything recorded by any technology "that we here possess." I'll always wonder what proportion of that sound was electrified and amplified, travelling via cones and cables, and what proportion was delivered directly from their larynx to my eager eardrums, unspoiled by the artificiality of machinery.
I was shocked at the wave of my own emotion and put a hand up to my face in an attempt to stem its tide. But I grinned in amazement at the same time as my wife Michelle turned towards me, checking for my reaction.
It wasn't long before I started considering how much command the composer, Howard Shore, had (has) over not only the full orchestra, but a choir and two sopranos. It was then a seemingly natural progression to the realisation of what a monumental challenge it must be to write music for this many elements. I'd considered this before when seeing a number of previous live orchestral performances but was impressed again by how such a large number of disparate elements can be brought together with such incredible harmony and unity.
An orchestra really is more than the sum of its parts and this idea is multiplied when witnessed in conjunction with not only the magic of filmmaking, but with a film of what is considered by many to be the greatest story ever written.
As the film progressed and I started getting used to having the musicians around, my attention started drifting more often to the film itself, with the music playing the supporting role it was always designed to be. There is something to be said for the talent of the filmmakers when it took some conscious effort to pull my eyes from the screen to re-appreciate the musical spectacle in front of me.
Sitting in the front row certainly didn't hurt either for that added sense of envelopment.
The timing of the live performance to the exact cues in the film was impeccable and I was interested to learn afterwards that the conductor uses the same technology to time his direction as that used when recording a film score. The conductor is unable to express his own interpretation of a piece of music but is obviously still critical in the timing of the musicians' performance. It's as if the conductor is being conducted by the composer himself, who is likely being conducted by the filmmaker.
If it wasn't for Michelle's love of the Lord of the Rings films, I probably wouldn't have bothered, but I'm really thankful I did as the experience was spectacular and so many more times the sum of its parts.
Funny to think that many years ago the live performance was the only way of accompanying a film with a musical score.
Speaking of parts, number 2: The Two Towers is planned for October 2013. I wonder if this trend will continue and how many other films might receive the same treatment.