I was a little disappointed that UBC hadn’t provided a budget for the Symphonic Winds to allow them to be costumed for their rendition of music from Starwars and Lord Of The Rings. You would think that an institution with a top-level opera program, with accompanying costume department, would kick a couple of bucks down to those of us in the pit for at least a bass clarinet with a bell in the shape of a Darth Vader helmet or perhaps some flutes with lightsabre footjoints. I’m being facetious of course. Even the Deathstar must have had an accounting department that had to tell the Emperor that his budget stopped somewhere.
The Lord Of The Rings Symphony is not what you think it is. At least, if you’re thinking of Orlando Bloom’s tender chin as accompanied by Howard Shore’s sweeping stringscapes it isn’t. For one, there are no strings (HA!). For two, see Mr Bloom’s agent and pass his derisive laughter along to your accountant. This five movement work comes to us from the desk of Johan de Meij and was penned a long time ago in what might seem like a galaxy far away (1987). The composer chose to make each movement a musical portrait of a prominent component of Tolkien’s trilogy. It’s probably not surprising that the strongest chunk of music was also the portrait of the most interesting and complex character from the books: Gollum (Smeagol). Tolkien constructs Gollum as a perpetually cursed figure with an unrelenting desire for the titular ring at the cost of both his body and mind. In a move that would expunge even the most well worn saxophone joke from the lips of even the most dashingly witty concert reviewer, the composer chose the soprano sax to play an eerily alluring cadenza that spoke to the mournful state of Smeagol’s existence.
The most welcomingly-wild and off-the-rails piece on the program was a work by Huck Hodge entitled, from the language of shadows. The music was inspired by F.W. Murnau’s 1926 silent film, Faust and aptly captures the spirit of doomed damnation. Writhing, almost eldritch, lines and punchy brass salvos dominated the work. Common practice harmony was not entirely non-existent as I did find myself latching on to a beautiful and mournful little chorale that crept into the score. Venturing into a soundscape bereft of familiar landmarks can be a harrowing listening experience. The composers I love who do it well will often include a touch of something that, perhaps is completely foreign when in context, but ends up being so sagely satisfying and familiar that one doesn’t object to it. In fact, the opposite is usually the case wherein the listener is pulled in deeper and they end up appreciating what they once might have scowled at. The band chose to perform the piece alongside excerpts from the film from which it was inspired and the end result was terrifyingly effective. Having the visual element was definitely a welcome help for us trying to find our way through such a complicated piece of music. And it didn’t hurt that the film itself was absolutely gorgeous:
Also, much to our delight, they played Starwars. Not some haphazardly titled work about dueling constellations that has nothing to do with J.W.’s iconic score, but the real thing. Minus strings (DOUBLE-HA!). My ventricles collapse a little bit, mostly out of empathy, for woodwind players who are forced to play string lines. It doesn’t always work and often it can be tragically annoying to know that you’re playing a line that somebody obviously just copy and pasted from a cello part with no thought for your lung capacity, your instrument, or your sanity. However, this DID seem to work well. I’d be curious to hear a player’s thoughts about it.
Also, much to our delight, Rob Taylor dressed up like Obi-Wan and almost gave a downbeat with his lightsaber. However, based on his knowledge of familiar catchphrases from the trilogy, I have extreme doubts that he’s even seen them.
I went there. Oh snap.