Late one afternoon in early autumn, a fellowship of musicians joined forces in a grand amphitheater. Their quest: to present a blockbuster evening of Howard Shore‘s 2002 Oscar and Golden Globe winning soundtrack. The setting: Red Hat Amphitheatre and a larger-than-life projection of Peter Jackson’s 2001 film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, based on the first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s popular fantasy epic. The North Carolina Symphony, amassed in full force, was flanked by the North Carolina Master Chorale and the Raleigh Boychoir to present an epic of their own with over 250 musicians collaborating to bring to life the backdrop of Middle Earth.

The film was presented on a huge HD screen made up of multiple panels; it took a few minutes of warming up, syncing, and refreshing these screens, but in the end the film was so crisp and detailed that you could see the dust on the floors, the sweat on the faces, and the details of the Ring itself. The movie had subtitles enabled, allowing for the music to be played freely and amplified adequately without worrying about the balance of music to sound and dialogue. This brought life, depth, and an immense sense of importance to the music itself.

The combination of provincial folk tunes and sweeping action sequences characterizes a land in peril, at first setting the stage for innocent and blissfully oblivious hobbits, who then become embroiled in a dangerous series of events that threaten their lives and the fate of their world. This 178-minute, action-packed film introduces a saga that now includes six films and their corresponding soundtracks and that has been a staple of fantasy literature since 1954 when Tolkien first released his novel.

Flute solos made famous by James Galway in the original film set the tone for the rustic opening scenes, played skillfully yet plaintively by Anne Whaley Laney. The clarinet and English horn soloists, Samuel Almaguer and Alex Liedtke, respectively, also evoked the Celtic-inspired, innocent themes that served to offset the sinister action sequences. These ultimately culminated in a nostalgic yet hopeful and selfless ending that set up the following installments of the trilogy. I must also nod to the brilliant performance of the French horn section, led by Rebekah Daley, without who players the film itself might not have had the resilience and variety of emotion that it did. Their teamwork – as well as their individual talent – shone brightly if perhaps not quite as brightly as the massive HD screens on which the film was shown, but that cannot be helped. In fact, it was incredibly easy to forget we were listening to a previsely synchronized live orchestra, so seamless was the integration of the sound and the film!

The NC Master Chorale and the Raleigh Boychoir teamed up for what resulted in some awe-inspiring moments of sonority. Even as they had to count several hours of rests for only a few minutes of singing, their performance evoked both ethereal and guttural, somber and cheerful, delicate and powerful atmospheres. The final tune, “In Dreams,” as performed by the Raleigh Boychoir and the Chorale, was simple, wistful, and elegantly executed, with a boy soloist that surpassed all expectations of a performer his age.

Guest soprano soloist Kaitlyn Lusk, who performed one of Shore’s award-winning songs at the Grammy Honors in New York City “at Howard Shore’s request,” according to the program notes, made her several features worth the wait, her voice soaring over the ensemble with depth, complexity, and flair. Her expert melismas in Enya’s “May It Be,” which took place during the final credits, blurred the lines between pop and soundtrack but with grace and flair.

Director Shih-Hung Young, who tours The Lord of the Rings: Live to Projection as well as other productions, gave simple yet incredibly demonstrative direction of this production in Raleigh’s beautiful Red Hat Amphitheatre on a late-summer weekend. This massive collaboration of artists was enough to bring a 1,000-member audience to silence, laughter, and cheers, despite Raleigh’s sporadic trains, fire trucks, and ambulances (which always seem to pass by during the most somber moments). This is the kind of group effort of both artistry and sheer entertainment that makes me proud to live in the Triangle.

This show – yes, it is definitely that! – will be repeated on Satuday, September 20, in the same venue. For details, see the sidebar.