The Metropolitan Festival Orchestra's presentation of Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was, to quote an old cliche, a true feast for the senses. This is my first time attending a performance at the Star Theatre; given the sheer size and depth of the place it may not be the ideal location for unamplified performances; the orchestra augmented with a large choral arm was miked up despite its size of Mahlerian proportions, probably also to help the orchestral sound blend in with the film's audio feed. Impressively, the orchestra and played every note from start to end, even the opening and closing credits, and blended perfectly in time with scene changes of the film.
As conductor Justin Freer gave the downbeat for the music and film to start, I felt a slight disorientation: should my attention be on the musicians playing onstage or the prerecorded visuals playing on a screen almost two storeys high at the back? Suffice to say that there was so much going on that it really does overwhelm the senses. It all blended into one seamless multimedia treat and one just laidback and enjoyed the luxurious experience. Howard Shore's score, with it's soaring harmonies, contributions from Celtic and Chinese instruments, subtle leitmotivs and gorgeous solo singing by Rosalind Waters and Samuel Yuen, made for some really beautiful listening. Where the live orchestra might not have the polish of the studio recorded soundtrack, it makes up with infectious live energy, bringing the background music more to the foreground.
With two 3-hour shows to go through in a day and the tight framework of accompanying film, the ensemble players understandably had to play it safe, and they pulled it off: entrances are perfectly in sync and notes are pulled off perfectly, but I felt some parts could use more energy, more of a devil-may-care roar, especially during action sequences. It was the final battle scene when the players had the confidence to let it rip, playing with on-the-spur excitement that greatly heightened the atmosphere.
If you have yet to check out the. MFO in action, they will return to the stage later this month in a concert entitled Bridging Frontiers on 21 June 2014 at the Esplanade Concert Hall.
P.S. A totally cute thing happened during intermission: a man led his girlfriend onstage and, to the strains of serenading musicians, got on one knee and proposed! 'Say no!' yelled a lady behind me, which thankfully went unheeded. With the government complaining endlessly about declining marriage and birthrates, who's to say now that the arts are not a necessity?