Vincent Monaco: Lord of the Strings

Tonight, the Phillips Academy Concert Band and Brass Ensemble will take you all the way to Middle Earth. The concert, performed tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Cochran Chapel, will feature two “Lord of the Rings” themed pieces, in addition to classical repertoire. Gandalf, the first movement of Johan de Meij’s celebrated symphony inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” will accompany a sequence of songs from Howard Shore’s film score for “The Two Towers.” Other works include Handel’s Water Music Suite, arranged for concert band, Mozart’s Adagio and Bach’s Contrapunctus IX, arranged by John Glasel. Some members of the Phillips Academy student community may be surprised by the band’s unusual repertoire; the band is best known for its excellent rendition of marches and overtures. Before this term, it has not tackled music demanding so much focus and diligence. Indeed, the selection of the two compositions affiliated with J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel may be attributed to a certain member of the “Tuesday Night Band” who, at the conclusion of fall 2003, suggested to Instructor of Music Vincent Monaco that the band perform the film score to the “Lord of The Rings” film trilogy. Mr. Monaco, fulfilling his responsibility as director and conductor, researched the possibilities for compositions. He eventually procured the two “Lord of The Rings” pieces that will be performed this Friday. Of these, Gandalf is the grand opening to a better-known composition called The Lord of The Rings by Johan de Meij, a musician who studied trombone performance and conducting at the Royal Conservatory of music at The Hague in the Netherlands. de Meij’s symphony, which was conceived for a concert band, received the Sudler Composition Award in 1989. Subsequently, he has enjoyed wide international acclaim. The striking fanfare and mystery of Gandalf is a wonderful preview of the symphony in its entirety and promises to elicit a strong response from all listeners. It daringly meets the challenge of painting a portrait of the great, wizened, and sagacious wizard of Tolkien lore. By contrast, the film score to “The Two Towers” relies much more on creating and modifying atmosphere. Its strength relies on a minimalist approach to tension between the layered, sustained, harmonic progression in the majority of the winds and the lyrical solo strains. As such, the challenge for the band is not so much in the explosive, dynamic power of individual sections in the band – of which Gandalf would be a prime example – but rather in the ability of the band as a cohesive whole to ride the contours of volume and tempo. The music completes the personality of characters in the film. It does not draw excessive attention away from what takes place on screen, and thus cannot be expected to be as easily ‘palatable’ as Gandalf, because its identity and nature are inextricably linked to the simultaneous performance of the actors. This year’s Winter Term concert may be the toughest yet, resulting from the contrast between the two compositions inspired by one oeuvre. The band, which has grown to absorb the extra musical capacity demanded by the two great works of the evening, will undoubtedly have to maintain and exceed the standards of discipline and focus to overcome the many challenges they encounter in exploring such new domains of music. They will also have to preserve their endurance of numerous and exhaustive rehearsals if they are to carry the repertoire to fruition.