Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CSO @ Ravinia

Bear with me while I completely nerd-out for a moment. Something monumental has happened that my high school mind has been craving since 2003. I attended the Lord of the Rings Symphony at Ravinia, put on by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (get all your laughs out now).

I was a total LOTR geek in high school. I've read the books, have the extended DVDs, and own all the soundtracks. It was those movies that got me interested in film and the film making process in the first place. I owe the kiwis a lot.

Howard Shore doesn't need his Academy Award to tell him that his score is brilliant. Anyone familiar with the LOTR story knows that the entire world that Tolkien created revolves around different cultures. Hobbits are homely and folksy, elves are immortal and ethereal, people from Rohan are centered on their equines and are slightly Anglo-Saxon. Each culture needs their own distinct melodies and “theme music.” Howard Shore gave them a musical identity.

I had some kind of pre-teen fangirly spaz-out when I realized that I was going to be home for this performance. Ravinia itself is always a good time no matter who is playing, as it is one huge evening picnic. The great thing about the place is that many of the people that come usually wouldn't be the type to go into Chicago to sit through a full symphony at a concert hall. The community picnic aspect is what attracts people to bring their children or a group of friends. This show in particular was the marriage of film and classical music, something that would be attractive to an entirely different crowd than usual. No wonder the lawn looked more like Bonnaroo than a crowd in their opera going finest.

  (I think this picture is hilarious beyond words)

You usually drop $10 for lawn seats, plop your blanket somewhere on the 36 acres of wooded lawn space, and bring your Playmate cooler with a as much food as you can stuff in it. Regulars will have mini tables topped with wine, cheese, and fancy finger food. But I've seen people sneak in Chinese take-out or styrofoam containers of fried chicken. My best friend and her boyfriend brought cheeses, hummus, and a shrimp ring. I brought a picnic backpack set that has been dormant in my crawl space for the past 15 years, fruit, French bread, wine, and some awesome scones that I baked that afternoon. Our amount of food coma was perfect for laying back and staring at the night sky while listening to the show.

The actual symphony was not was I was expecting. I thought it was going to be about 3 hours of selections from all 3 movies. Wrong! The theatrical version of Fellowship of the Ring was screened over the orchestra in the pavilion. There was the usual spoken audio and sound effects, but the score was cut and performed live instead. From our blanket on the lawn, we could only see the top half of the movie but we didn't mind. We've seen the movie enough times to know exactly what was going on. And we weren't the only ones. I was amused to see a guy who was on his way to the bathroom with a beer can in hand shout “SARUMAN!” at the exact same moment that an Orc on screen did.

The music was great, of course, as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the top orchestras in the country. The female vocalist who sang the solos was amazing. My only complaint was that the choir as a whole was a little less powerful than in the recorded score. I'm not sure how long the CSO had to rehearse, but I would imagine that learning a new language wouldn't be the easiest thing. Sure, opera singers have to sing in different languages all the time, but the French and Italian languages are actually spoken regularly. You can't say the same thing for the languages Tolkien created. It might have just been a lack of phonetic confidence.

I loved any time that they played the Isengard theme. It is supposed to sound very mechanized and a little bit off, since it is set in 5/4. The percussion section uses some kind of metal instruments to give that industrial sound. I don't mean metal as in the type of rock music. I mean it sounded like they were shaking metal chain links and banging on anvils, which they probably were. We couldn't see the orchestra from our spot on the lawn but I would have loved to see the percussionists in their tuxes whacking away at some grungy, rusty construction equipment. 

Thank you, Ravinia Festival, for fulfilling my mid-teenage mind's dreams! 

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