Howard Shore has composed scores for more than 60 films, but he has made perhaps his greatest mark with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where he has been honored with an Oscar and a Grammy for Best Original Score (for The Fellowship of the Ring). Now, with his work concluded on The Return of the King, Shore takes a breather to reflect on the accomplishment and the acclaim.
The scope of this project is unlike anything ever attempted on film. How did you prepare for a task of this magnitude?
I just kept that Tolkien book on my desk. If you have that book on your desk, you know it could take a few years to compose all the music for that book. And, of course, it did. So I was able to be pretty realistic about the amount of time involved to create the piece.
I probably made 10 or 12 trips to New Zealand, and each time I would write while I was there, so quite a lot of the piece was created in New Zealand. The beauty and sensibility of New Zealand were really inspiring. I found I was very connected to the movie.
Are there any particular memories of your time in New Zealand that stand out?
There's a large section of the first film, when the Fellowship is in Moria, that was recorded in New Zealand with the New Zealand Symphony. We assembled 60 male singers who sang all the Dwarvish chants, and that was quite inspiring.
You also spent quite a bit of time in London working with the London Philharmonic. How was that?
The London Philharmonic is an orchestra I've worked with for many years. The first film I did with them was David Cronenberg's The Fly, back in the mid-'80s. Since then, I've predominantly recorded with the London Philharmonic, so when I found out I was working on The Lord of the Rings I wanted them to be a part of it. They've been the principal orchestra on all three films.
Were there any unique elements you experienced during this project because it was a trilogy?
Well, there were pleasant surprises that came from working with a new cast of guest artists for each film. For instance, on The Return of the King, we had the newness of meeting and working with Annie Lennox, Renee Fleming and Sir James Galway.
I was in New Zealand meeting with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, beginning our creative thinking on the film. I asked Fran who was at the top of her list for artists to work with, and she said Annie Lennox, and she was at the top of my list as well. So I wrote Annie a letter on the plane back to New York.
How did your collaboration with Annie Lennox and Fran Walsh create the song "Into the West"?
In mid-August the three of us were together in London and we showed Annie the movie and started working together. We did workshops, where we would write and sing and think about the song and think about what we wanted to do, and "Into the West" evolved from those sessions.
It must have been amazing, to work with artists of that caliber.
It was. It was really a very creative process. Renee Fleming was amazing, and she sings four arias in The Return of the King that are really iconic moments: the reforging of Narsil, Gollum finally getting the ring, the eagle saving Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom and the coronation of Aragorn.
And how about James Galway? How did he fit into the mix?
I had this idea that because the hobbits evolve, that when they go back to the Shire, the Shire is the same, but they have changed. Because they have been through this incredible journey, the folk aspect and the tin whistle evolves into a flute, which is a more grown up sound, a more evolved sound. So I asked James Galway if he would play both, and he agreed. So you hear the penny whistle and towards the end of the film the whistle evolves into the flute.
Can you talk about working with Peter Jackson?
He's a great collaborator and a terrific friend. He's very inspired, very intuitive to my work, and he's been with me almost throughout the entire process. We meet a lot, even though Peter is in New Zealand, and I'm in New York. We have a video link and we meet regularly on everything.
Your work on The Lord of the Rings doesn't end with the films. You're also performing the trilogy score as a six-part symphony in select locations around the world. Where did that idea come from?
It grew out of a performance a couple of years ago at the Hollywood Bowl, after the release of the The Fellowship of the Ring. John Mauceri, who is the principal conductor of the Hollywood Bowl, requested two movements from the The Fellowship of the Ring. And then I created two movements for The Two Towers. And I just finished two movements from The Return of the King, so now the symphony is in six movements for orchestra and chorus.
How long is the symphony, and where will it be performed?
It's a two-hour piece, and it premiered at the end of November in Wellington, New Zealand, with the New Zealand Symphony and a chorus, a children's chorus and soloists. It's a piece for 200 performers. I'll also be conducting the piece in Berlin, and in Antwerp, Belgium, and Seattle. Sydney is doing it with the Sydney Symphony at the Sydney Opera house. The Philadelphia Orchestra is performing the piece, and the Montreal Symphony as well. I also hope to do a performance with the London Philharmonic in London, possibly next summer.